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File-sharing goes to school

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The sun shines cold and bright in the days following Boston's first big snowfall. Scores of students, bundled in winter coats, juggle unwieldy musical instruments, cellphones, and laptops as they trudge through the city's slushy streets.

It is an age of reckoning for many of these students as virtual schooling gains momentum nationwide.

Here at the Berklee College of Music, enrollment in the new online school is already above 800, and students who've opted to walk to classes instead of simply logging on to them are running up against a harsh reality: Trekking to class in a town like Boston can be brutal.

So it does not come as a surprise that Berklee, among the country's most prestigious music institutions, is at the front of a small but influential pack of schools moving unprecedented amounts of content online.

After the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed almost 400 lawsuits against music file-sharers in America this past fall, the music school launched Berklee Shares, a program that places more than 100 music lessons on the Internet free of charge and encourages those who download the video, audio, and text files to share the minilessons with as many people as possible.

The goal is threefold: spread the Berklee name around the world as quickly and cheaply as possible; further the Berklee goal to educate and develop students to excel in music as a career; and encourage a healthy discussion about file- sharing, which the school considers to be a legitimate distribution model for the music industry and beyond.

"Berklee is in a unique position in the music business," says Dave Kusek, associate vice president of the school.

The school's job, he explains, includes training not only musicians and songwriters, but also the industry's business leaders, managers, publishers, and record-label executives.

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