First came the computer file, then filesharing and now: Copyright infringement lawsuits. Across the nation a whole generation of computer users attempting to pass information back and forth speaks the language of Napster, Kazaa or BitTorrent. While the act of filesharing breaks no laws, sharing copyrighted material like music or movies does. Copyright holders, those who own the music, are asking universities to stop students from sharing copyrighted material on campus.
Students residing in University dormitories miscalculate the consequences of filesharing, said Mert Nickerson, director of University Computing Technologies and Chad Casey, the network support coordinator. Nickerson and Casey both work to stop illegal filesharing at USM.
Representatives from organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sign onto programs and use a filesharer’s list of available files as evidence. “They know the conversations that go on between these programs and they try and initiate it. They’ll keep a record of exactly which songs you have on your machine and they’ll say-‘here’s the evidence,'” said Nickerson.
With such a vast number of individuals using filesharing programs, it would seem the actual number of those apprehended for the crime would be low, and at best, a random and futile effort.
“It’s not quite as random as you might think,” said Nickerson. “Universities in general have a high bandwith [big pipes to the internet with lots of speed] so we’re likely candidates for the RIAA people to scan.”
There is a sociological aspect to consider as well: The average age of individuals who doing the sharing. Most college students fall between the ages of 17-25 and have used computer technology since the internet became a mainstream resource. “The freshman of this year, they don’t think about it because they’ve been doing it since they were 13 years old,” said Casey.
RIAA representatives identify filesharers by the computer’s IP address. This address pinpoints the location of that computer.
In the case of college students, RIAA reps can use the address to identify the student’s campus. The Digital Millenium Copywrite Act exempts colleges and universities from lawsuits from recording industries if, after a copyright owner contacts the institution, the institution takes disciplinary action.
In USM’s case, disciplinary action takes an educational approach. Students sharing files are removed from ResNet for a temporary period as seen fit by Steve Nelson in the Office of Community Standards. The students are not, however, denied access to the computers located in campus computer labs because their username remains accessable during the suspension period.
“When we shut them off [the network] it serves two purposes,” said Casey. “It protects the University and it protects the student by educating them because it follows a pretty hefty fine if they continue doing this. I think the student should be aware that there is the opportunity for harsh consequences. Just because we shut them off does not mean that the lawyers cannot come after them, even after the first supension.”
If it seems that this is not commonplace on the USM campuses, Casey suggests otherwise: “We shut off quite a few people during the week-the word is not getting out.”
According to Nickerson, educational information is prominently displayed for students, including on the ResNet registration site when students move into the dormitory halls. “You can speed here for a long time and one day, there’s a cop sitting there with a radar,” he said. But that does not excuse you from that ticket. The bottom line is we aren’t out there trying to be the police. Our interest is mainly to protect the University from lawsuits. But we also feel that as an educational institution, it is our responsibility to educate.”