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ND polices online activity

Sam Stryker | Sunday, January 29, 2012

During his freshman year, senior James Hesburgh said he thought he was invincible when it came to downloading music and movies illegally off the Internet until he was caught.

“Anyone who illegally downloads music online always thinks about getting caught, somehow … but you never know anyone who has personally been caught,” he said. “You never really think it will happen to you.”

Though Hesburgh was cited for illegal online activity in October 2008, he did not receive notice of his infraction until the following July. He received an email from the Office of Residence Life & Housing saying he was in violation of du Lac, the Notre Dame student handbook.

“They told me if they caught me again, they would turn me over to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America).”

Hesburgh’s violation was one of hundreds of complaints the Office of Information Technologies (OIT) receives every year from various copyright holders. In a statement to The Observer, OIT said complaints have been on the rise.

“The number of complaints received each year varies at the discretion of the copyright owners … Just [this] January we’ve received over 200 complaints. In 2011 it was closer to 3800; in 2010 it was around 850.  The copyright owners have also changed their tactics and priorities over the years.”

Kathleen O’Leary, director of the Office of Residence Life, said Notre Dame does not track user activity on the University’s network. Rather, she said her office works with OIT to address any illegal activity brought to its attention by rights holders.

“The Office of Residence Life collaborates with OIT to address alleged violations of the University’s Responsible Use of Information Technology Policy by following up with students in writing or by meeting with students in person when necessary,” she said.

According to the Responsible Use of Information Technologies Policy, users of Notre Dame’s technology resources are expected to “comply with the law with respect to the rights of copyright owners in the use, distribution or reproduction of copyrighted materials, including but not limited to music or video files.”

OIT’s statement states the Responsible Use of Information Technologies Policy holds students to the same standards of activity online as the University does in their everyday lives.

“The use of University information technology resources, like the use of any other University-provided resource and like any other University-related activity, is subject to the requirements of legal and ethical behavior within our community.”

The statement from OIT also states once these complaints are brought to Notre Dame, OIT itself looks into the matter.

“When claims of inappropriate use of technology resources are reported to us, we reserve the right to investigate them,” the statement said. “When we find a violation, we refer the situation to the Office of Student Affairs for potential disciplinary action.”

After bringing the complaints to the Office of Student affairs, the University works with the rights holders to resolve the issue at hand.

“We typically provide assistance with interpreting the technical details received in a copyright owner’s complaint and identifying the individuals using the computers mentioned in the complaint,” the statement said.

O’Leary said illegally downloading material is both a legal issue and a violation of University policy, and those who use Notre Dame technological resources in such a manner can face punishment from multiple avenues.

“A copyright owner could choose to file suit against an individual student … Possible sanctions for a violation of the Responsible Use of Information Technologies Policy include written or verbal warnings, fines or community service,” she said. “Repeated violations would result in additional sanctions as outlined in du Lac.”

In Hesburgh’s case, he only received a written warning. He said he stopped downloading files illegally after receiving the notification, and considers himself lucky to not have been punished worse.

“No one knows anyone personally, you just hear horror stories and assume it won’t happen to you,” he said. “It’s almost like if you get caught, you’re just unlucky.”

Hesburgh said he considers this culture of illegal downloading as generational.

“I think our generation has an illegal downloading culture,” he said. “I think it just has extended to Notre Dame.”

Hesburgh, who serves as a Residence Assistant (RA) in Alumni Hall, said his violation has not impacted his participation in any Notre Dame campus activities negatively.

However, he said the infraction did come up in interviews for his current position.

“It was a short meeting,” Hesburgh said. “Technically, [the violation] is a minor infraction compared to other things; it was still significant enough to bring up again three years later.”

Overall, Hesburgh said he feels Notre Dame treated him fairly in how it handled his case.

“I think [the Office of Residence Life & Housing] treated me fairly,” he said. “In fact, I appreciate the fact they protected me in the first round. They could have easily handed me over [to the rights holders].”

This method of protecting, rather than prosecuting, seems to have a lasting effect, Hesburgh said.

“The way they protected [me] made sure I didn’t have to [pay a fine, but] it scared me into never doing it again,” he said. “It was the best way to go about it.”