Internet on campus: U warns against Internet piracy

Students who download music and movies on school computers without copyright permission might think they are doing little harm.

But administrators say the recording industry is watching what you download and students caught pirating online materials can face steep consequences.

File sharing services such as are fairly popular and allow users to easily download different types of files, but federal law prohibits the sharing of any copyrighted files.

Students caught illegally downloading or pirating items on the Internet could potentially be expelled from the university and be sued by the record industry for thousands of dollars.

“Personal computers and equipment can be confiscated, students can be expelled and employees can be fired,” Barb Snyder, vice president for student affairs, warned in an e-mail to students last spring.

The U regularly receives complaints from the Recording Industry Association of America, a group that represents a majority of record companies in the United States, about illegal downloads that are traced to computers on the U network.

“We get them every day pretty much,” said Kevin Taylor, director of planning and policy for the U’s Office of Information Technology.

And the problem isn’t limited to music. The U also receives complaints about pirated TV shows, movies and software programs.

Since the beginning of Fall Semester, Taylor has received 52 complaints about illegal downloading at the U. He said the complaints come in chunks, usually once or twice a week. Most complaints come from the RIAA for music downloads.

Although students could receive harsher punishments, the U has not expelled any students for Internet pirating, Taylor said.

“The U is not in the mode of trying to punish its students for these things,” he said.

Taylor said because this type of file sharing is common, the U tries to inform students that the practice is illegal.

Once the U receives a complaint, the instance is verified, and if a student has been illegally downloading and sharing files his or her campus Internet connection is cut off. To get their Internet access back, students must sign an agreement indicating that they understand what they did was illegal and won’t do it again. Complaints can be traced to individual students by IP addresses, which are given to every computer.

Taylor said the occurrence is a startling eye-opener for many students.

“We don’t get repeat offenders,” Taylor said.

He said there have been a few students who continued pirating despite the warning. Those instances are referred to the dean of students. Complaints about employees are generally handled by individual departments, Taylor said.

Steve Scott, who manages the U’s Information Security Office and handles the complaints, said most pirating is happening in the Residence Halls. Students usually tell Scott they were unaware they had done something illegal, which Scott said “is hard to believe.”

“A lot of people claim ignorance, but I think people should know,” he said.

Although most offenders receive lesser punishments, Taylor warns that the record industry is increasingly pursuing legal action against music pirates.

On its website the RIAA says that is has recently sent letters to 58 universities warning them of pending lawsuits against students. The letters ask the universities to forward the information to students so they can seek a pre-lawsuit settlement.

Taylor said most settlements require students to pay around $3,000 to avoid a lawsuit, which if pursued could force them to pay much more.

The U has not received any of these letters, but Taylor said they have received two letters from record companies warning that they might send letters seeking pre-litigation settlements. He said these warnings are mostly show.

“I think for them it’s more of a message than anything else,” Taylor said.

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