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Students caught for music piracy

Robert Singer | Monday, March 2, 2009

While it is common knowledge that breaking parietals and underage drinking will result in punishment, many students are unaware the Office of Residence Life and Housing (ORLH) can deliver punishments for illegal music downloads.

Students who illegally download copyrighted material, such as TV shows, music, games or movies, could expect to receive a disciplinary letter from the University if an outside organization spots their activity.

About 100 students per semester receive “copyright infringement notices,” said Robert Casarez, assistant director at the Office of Residence Life and Housing (ORLH).

Since file sharing traffic can be publicly monitored, organizations bent on limiting piracy like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), The Entertainment Software Association, NBC Universal, HBO and Columbia Pictures can identify users who have pirated copyrighted material, Casarez said.

“Since this information is public, outside organizations log the information and send the notices to the Internet Service Provider where the material is originating,” he said. “It is up to the Internet Service Provider, in the case of our students, Notre Dame, to identify the person and notify them of the violation.”

The University does not actively make an effort to enforce copyright laws, but only responds to the requests of agencies hired by recording industries or movie studios.

“Our office does not seek out students who are downloading copyrighted material,” Casarez said. “We only respond to the notices sent by outside organizations.”

If a student receives a letter from ORLH for copyright infringement, he or she will be warned if it is his or her first offense. But repeated abuses could result in “a removal of all a student’s registered devices from our network and a fine,” Casarez said.

The penalty could be steep if an outside agency decides to press charges.

“Outside organizations, such as the RIAA, are known to file lawsuits against students,” Casarez said.

Many outside agencies target users who upload large amounts of copyrighted data to others, in the hopes that piracy can be contained if the source is made scarce. But Casarez said because most programs require you to share files while you download them, it is difficult to eliminate the risk of being caught simply by limiting how much you upload.

“All illegal file sharing activity puts students at risk,” he said. “Both copying and transmitting copy-protected material is a violation. Most file sharing programs have no distinction between downloading or uploading as they share and transmit data while you are downloading the file.”

Some outside agencies collect incriminating information by logging onto popular file sharing networks like BitTorrent and communicating with the user’s network address. Programs like PeerGuardian can be used to block the IP addresses of agencies that have been known to sue for copyright infringement.

Other universities have struggled to slow down Internet piracy committed by their students, because it is difficult for network administrators to block illegal file sharing without also thwarting many legitimate activities.

“There is no doubt that file sharing software puts a strain on our network,” Casarez said.

Multiple free and low-cost legal options exist for students to download music and other entertainment.

“For about 99 cents a song, iTunes provides the best, and largest, source for music downloads,” Casarez said. “If you would like to watch TV Episodes or movies on your computer, the best thing to do is to watch streaming media using Netflix or Hulu, which do not require you to download a large file and work well on our high speed network.”