It doesn’t take an economist to figure out why college students illegally download and share movies, television and music.
But USM junior Patrick O’Connor can tell you that file sharing isn’t without its dangers.
O’Connor, a philosophy major, said he was caught sharing a film on western philosophy on a peer-to-peer network network in which users share music, movies and other files. The chances of being caught sharing copyrighted material increase the longer a user keeps their file sharing program open. O’Connor said he accidentally left his peer-to-peer network open on his laptop at the USM library, which he believes led to his being caught.
“I unwittingly left my BitTorrent open and came to school. I started using the campus’s wireless network, and they picked up on it,” he said.
According to Stephen Nelson, director of community standards, USM doesn’t monitor its networks for unauthorized file sharing by users. “The philosophy is, what you do on your computer is your business,” he said. “We don’t go looking.”
Instead, companies like Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures hire outside copyright enforcement companies like who monitor peer-to-peer networks for infringement of their clients’ material. Such companies have created controversy, raising concerns due to their investigative practices.
One company hired to enforce copyright infringements, MediaSenty, was banned from operating in Massachusetts and New York due to their lack of a license to practice private investigation in those states. MediaSentry has since been combined with another company, MediaDefender, and been re-branded as Peer Media Technologies, a company from whom the University of Maine System continues to receive notifications.
When illegal file sharing is detected, those companies then send notifications to the internet service provider on whose internet network the infringement was found. According to Nelson, it is then the service provider’s responsibility to find the copyright violator and take action to stop infringement on their network.
“Because of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998, we are required to take corrective action as the internet service provider for anybody who uses the USM computer network,” said Nelson. “If we do not, then the company, say NBC Universal, would have the right to sue us.”
When illegal material is detected on the University of Maine System’s servers, the investigating company doesn’t know which UMS campus the violation occurred. Instead the notification is sent to Troy Jordan, a communications specialist at the USM system office in Bangor.
According to Nelson, Jordan then determines the campus from which the violation originated, using the violater’s Internet Protocol or IP address. Based on the IP address, Jordan then contacts that campus’s information technology department.
If a copyright infringement is tracked to USM, Jordan contacts Jim Cyr, associate director of networking, who determines who is connected to that IP address, whether they are a student, faculty, staff or a guest.
Because copyright violations are also a violation of USM’s acceptable use policy, students found to be in violation of copyright laws are subject to disciplinary action by Community Standards. Nelson said for a first offense, a student will have their internet connection disabled for two weeks, must view a video on copyright laws and write a short essay demonstrating their understanding of the severity of their offense.
Nelson said a second offense leads to having one’s internet connection disabled for a semester and a third results in the student losing their internet connection for the remainder of their time at USM.
Students are also charged a $35 fee by Community Standards, the same for any policy violation. “It’s the same fine, whether an underage student is caught with alcohol or if they burn down President Botman’s house on the Gorham Campus,” said Nelson.
Students caught violating copyright in the past at USM have also faced serious legal troubles.
In the fall of 2007, a law firm based in Denver, CO hired by the Recording Industry Association of America sued UMS for copyright violations by 27 individuals on UMS networks. Included in the lawsuit was a subpoena ordering the release of the names of the individuals responsible for the violations.
According to Deirdre Smith, a law professor at the University of Maine School of Law, UMS attempted to fight the lawsuit and the subpoena. Eventually, however, U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock ordered UMS to release the names of the individual students.
Smith said the RIAA immediately dropped the lawsuit against UMS and drew up litigation against the 27 students, based at various University of Maine campuses, including USM.
According to Nelson, the students received letters ordering them to pay a fine of around $3,000 or face even greater financial penalties. Nelson said all but 10 of the students paid the fee, and those 10 went on to be sued for damages by the RIAA.
The lawsuits were part of a greater campaign by the RIAA intended at deterring people, especially students, from illegal downloading and sharing. In the midst of the lawsuits against Maine students, the RIAA suddenly suspended the campaign, however the ongoing lawsuits continued.
Smith said the cases were eventually resolved, though she said couldn’t go into specifics about the cases without violating her clients’ right to privacy.