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ResLifes for downloads on the rise

Katie Perry | Friday, September 29, 2006

Some things in life are free – but they are also illegal.

More than one third of college students nationwide download pirated music files via peer-to-peer file sharing networks, according to an April 2006 University of Richmond survey. More than half of all illegal downloading cases occur on college campuses – and that includes Notre Dame.

The Office of Residence Life and Housing dealt with 78 cases of illegal file sharing during the 2005-06 academic year, said Assistant Director Kathy Brannock.

And that number is only increasing. This semester, the office has already encountered 50 incidents, she said.

“We seem to be having more cases this year,” Brannock said.

One of those cases is freshman Federico Valiente, who had a ResLife meeting Thursday after he was caught sharing illegal files on Sept. 21. He was notified when ORLH sent him an e-mail explaining how a copyright-owning company had “caught [him] and reported [him] to the University.”

“I got back to the dorm after my last class and checked my e-mail, hoping to get news from Facebook or something fun and interesting like that,” Valiente said. “To my surprise though, there was an e-mail from ResLife, which freaked me out when I read the subject: ‘Copyright Infringement.'”

Brannock said the University does not actively seek out students who violate copyright laws. Instead, the school is informed by “whoever owns the copyright,” she said. Notre Dame has been contacted by such groups as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), HBO, NBC Universal and Columbia Pictures.

Students who use file sharing networks like Kazaa, Limewire, Morpheus, BitTorrent and Ares – the “big one” this year – are monitored by the companies who then contact the University, Brannock said.

Brannock said last year, most incidents involved the peer-to-peer program BitTorrent, which primarily allows users to share video files. This year, about 85 percent of all cases at Notre Dame have been brought up by the RIAA and concern music files, she said.

“This shows that [the RIAA] is incredibly committed, vigilant and determined,” Brannock said.

Campus crackdowns

The widespread use of personal media players by college students might be a large factor in the music-pirating trend at America’s colleges. Nearly three-quarters of students think iPod use is “in,” according to a July 2006 survey by the Student Monitor, a New Jersey-based research group. Beer drinking was second most “in” at 71 percent.

Earlier this month, the RIAA cited 45 students for illegal downloading at Keene State College in New Hampshire. In a Sept. 14 article in The Equinox, the weekly student newspaper at KSU. Information Technology Manager Laura Seraichick said the RIAA was “looking for people who do this” and then notified the school. KSU’s Information Technology department received letters delineating who illegally downloaded, what was downloaded and which programs were used in the process.

The letters sent by the RIAA told the school that under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, if Keene State ignored the notice, “[the] institution may also be liable for any resulting infringement.” Seraichick told The Equinox that her department does not want to be “the police for the RIAA,” but said the school is “obligated to respond to these [notices]” by federal law.

The RIAA initiated four lawsuits against student operators of campus LAN networks at Princeton University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Michigan Technological University in April 2003. Now, the organization is targeting network users as well.

Some Notre Dame students are caught for “downloading just a song,” others have shared a few music files and others still have illegally obtained television shows and movies, Brannock said.

Valiente used Ares to download “about two or three songs” – one of which was not downloaded while he was at Notre Dame, he said.

“You don’t necessarily have to be downloading anything to get in trouble,” he said. “If you have the files in your computer already and you’ve got the file sharing program running, you’re virtually letting everyone see which files you’ve downloaded.”

Policies and pirating

About 75 percent of 18 to 24-year-old students in the University of Richmond study recognized that pirating media is illegal, but more than half of respondents said they weren’t sure whether illegal downloads were against their college or university’s policies.

Notre Dame’s policy, as outlined in du Lac’s Responsible Use of Information Technologies, explicitly states that “unauthorized copying or transmission of copyright-protected material” might result in the termination of the individual’s access to University networks.

Punishment for Notre Dame students who fail to abide to the rules depends on “previous history and previous cases,” Brannock said. First-time offenders are required to delete illegal files and uninstall the program used to obtain such files. More importantly, however, students are educated about illegal downloading, she said.

The ORLH Web site has a link on its main page about University policy and the risks of file sharing.

“[The Office of Residence Life and Housing] wants to focus more on education,” Brannock said. “We want to be proactive and not reactive. … The potential liability for students is big.”

Brannock said her office does not see many repeat cases. For students who continue to defy du Lac policy, she said “more significant consequences” could result, such as restricted access to Notre Dame servers – or no access at all.

Keene State’s current policy mandates that students caught pirating music sign a form recognizing that their actions were illegal. Students are then instructed how to disable file sharing on their computers. As at Notre Dame, repeat offenders face harsher penalties.

Though copyright-owning organizations can take their own action against students caught for illegal downloading at any time, Brannock said she did not know of any Notre Dame students sued by such groups.

One way to avoid problems with copyright-owning organizations is to seek out legal avenues for obtaining music – though these methods do not appeal to many students.

More than 120 universities have tried providing legal file sharing networks to students over the past few years, according to a 2005 study by the Campus Computing Project.

Approximately seven percent of all four-year schools and 31 percent of private research universities offered free or subsidized subscriptions through private grants or student fees. Notre Dame has never offered such a program, although in spring 2005 the Student Senate discussed the possibility of introducing Ruckus Network – a legal file-sharing program that would have cost students six dollars a month.

But the effort failed, and so did similar projects at other schools. At Cornell University, students given legal subscriptions to Napster were told they could only keep their music until graduation. Purdue University students lost interest when they realized they would have to pay a fee to burn songs or load them onto an iPod. Consequently, both schools discontinued the services in 2006.

One third of college students who engage in file sharing think the practice is inherently wrong, according to the University of Richmond study, but do it anyway to save money. The RIAA recognizes that as long as students – and all Internet users, for that matter – have the opportunity to download their favorite music free of charge and without limitation, they will.

“The pirate’s credo is still the same,” reads the RIAA Web site. “Why pay for it when it’s so easy to steal?”

Valiente warned students to “stay on the safe side” and refrain from file sharing – and he plans to take his own advice.

“When I got the e-mail from ResLife, my first reaction was something like, ‘Oh my God, I’m never going to listen to music again,'” he said. “But that [is] somewhat impossible, so I will probably end up getting [songs] from iTunes.”