RIAA targets colleges to stop illegal downloading

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March 6, 2007

2:08 PM

Students who download music online from questionably legal sources should proceed with caution. This year, the Recording Industries Association of America (RIAA) has redoubled its nationwide efforts targeting illegal file sharing on university campuses, issuing hefty fines as out-of-court settlement options.

p. The RIAA says it has sent three times as many complaints to universities over the sharing of copyrighted material this year than in the previous school year.

p. “They are sending out a lot more notices now,” Matt Keel, Information Technology’s security engineer, who handles the RIAA’s complaints at the College, said.

p. The College has received over 200 complaints so far this year from the RIAA and other groups, like the Motion Pictures Association of America. The RIAA also sent out 400 pre-litigation notices to 13 schools last week, but none so far to the College.

p. These letters give students an opportunity to settle for a discounted rate, estimated at $3,000, before being taken to court.
Different from the pre-litigation notices, the complaints the College has been receiving simply alert it to the presence of copyrighted material shared on its network and ask the College to take action.

p. “We’re not required under the law to affirmatively go out and police people’s hard drives,” Dave Gilbert, who handles the file-sharing cases in the Dean of Students office, said.

p. Because it is difficult to differentiate between legal and illegal file sharing, IT only blocks peer-to-peer services on the wireless network in an attempt to preserve wireless bandwidth for other purposes. On the wired network, file sharing is allowed, but restricted to a set bandwidth limit.

p. “We are obligated [to take action] once we become aware of the illegal file sharing,” Gilbert said.

p. Under federal law, the College is only liable for any files shared illegally on its network if it does not act to remove them once aware of their presence.

p. While some colleges treat illegal file sharing as a very serious violation, at the College, the odds are that it will result in little to no disciplinary action.

p. “We expect the student can learn from it, can change the behavior and can move forward without long term consequences,” Gilbert said.

p. For a first time offender, this will amount to little more than a slap on the wrist and brief loss of network services while the student’s internet access is limited to a single website explaining the problem.

p. “Your computer was reported to be illegally sharing copyrighted materials. We received an e-mail from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and under federal law, are required to address this issue,” a mock-up of the website IT provides to offenders reads.

p. The student must affirm that all copyrighted materials have been deleted by typing his student ID and password in an online form. Internet use is then restored.

p. “The vast majority of students comply with that and we don’t have a second violation,” Gilbert said.

p. While second-time violators have received a warning—the lightest disciplinary measure — these instances are handled on a case-by-case basis because of their rarity.

p. Before last week — when there were eight second-time violations — there had been only one such case this year. In order to make sure these students fully understand the technical aspects of the situation, they are often referred to the IT department.

p. “One place where students get caught by surprise is where students have their file sharing options open,” he said.

p. Recently, the dean’s office saw a second-offense student who continued to share and upload files in a peer-to-peer file-sharing program. By uploading files, the student again made his IP address an RIAA target.

p. “You have to be aware that generally when you’re downloading you’re also uploading,” said Keel. “If you’re sharing, you’re not anonymous. They can track it back.”

p. There has never been a third offense, but Gilbert imagined he would “respond more assertively.”

p. “Usually the next level from a warning is probation. In an extreme case, sanctions higher than that could be warranted,” Gilbert said.

p. Most students at the College probably do not have to worry about extreme cases. Gilbert described an “extreme case” as significant piracy going above and beyond the average user’s downloading the odd song.

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