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Students reported for illegal file sharing

Marcela Berrios | Friday, April 7, 2006

That illegally downloaded Kelly Clarkson song might be a secret pleasure, but more people than you think might know about the “Since U Been Gone” file on your computer.

Both musicians and the Recording Industry Association of America have struggled for years trying to keep songs and albums from being transferred from one user to another in file sharing programs such as KaZaa, LimeWire and Ares, among others.

At Notre Dame, computer usage violations were the fourth most frequent incident reported to the Office of Residence Life and Housing during the 2004-05 academic year, accounting for 11 percent of disciplinary violations handled by the Office.

DuLac’s Responsible Use of Information Technologies policy stipulates that any “unauthorized copying or transmission of copyright-protected material” might result in the termination of the user’s access to the Notre Dame networks.

But the people who pose the greatest threat to Ares users are the musicians, organizations and companies who fail to make a profit every time an album or movie is downloaded free of charge.

Companies such as HBO, Columbia Pictures and Universal Music Group have previously monitored Notre Dame students downloading movies, television shows, music files and other software, and have directly contacted the University, said Kathy Brannock, Assistant Director of the Office of Residence Life and Housing.

Brannock said Notre Dame does not actively monitor which students download “The Sopranos” or Bon Jovi hits to their computers, but when external organizations detect these activities, they file reports with the University’s legal department and expect it to address the issue with the students.

Junior Mike Bogacz said he was contacted by the Office of Residence Life and Housing after downloading a few songs.

“I got an e-mail from ResLife telling me to cease and desist and to call them up to schedule a meeting,” he said. “I had downloaded maybe three dozen songs using LimeWire, and I wasn’t even aware that I was sharing them with other users.”

For first time offenders such as Bogacz, Brannock says the University will only issue verbal warnings and expect the student to delete the files in question from his computer.

However, Brannock said she could not guarantee the company that detected the illegal file sharing would not press charges.

“We have been receiving more and more violation notices from companies, as they are becoming increasingly vigilant of their copyright-protected material,” Brannock said.

This semester alone, the Office of Residence Life and Housing has met with more than 33 students who were specifically reported by external organizations that witnessed them engaging in illegal file sharing, thus making this offense one of the most common ones among students.

“Every time you download a song for free, you’re running the risk of being watched by these companies and these musicians,” Brannock said. “They really are looking out for violators of copyright laws, and if you happen to download that one song at the wrong time, you might just get into trouble.”

The Office of Residence Life and Housing says it has received violation notices from outside companies against both students who may have downloaded more than 100 songs and movies and students who downloaded a mere handful.

While students are aware of the practical risks of downloading, not all consider it a serious offense.

“My RA at the time who was basically the student of the year, head of ROTC, etcetera heard of my plight, and said something like, ‘That’s illegal?'” Bogacz said.