Archive for November, 2008

the gestapo is alive and well

November 12, 2008

Internet usage may be restricted for students violating fi le-sharing policy

By Jeremy Keim-Shenk
Contributing Writer

Although all students receive a notice concerning copyright laws and illegal file sharing when they first log on to their Electronic Portfolio each year, several students still have their Internet access restricted each semester as a result of illegal sharing.

In an ongoing effort to decrease illegal file sharing on college campuses, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have been sending notices of infractions to colleges and universities across the country.

“If the RIAA sends a notice, there is a legal obligation that we inform the offender and ask them to take corrective action,” said Associate Vice President for ITS Ganesan Ravishanker.

The notices from RIAA or MPAA contain the IP address of the computer from which the sharing occurred, along with the date and time of the violation and names of shared files. Since every computer using the Wesleyan network is registered at the beginning of the year, Information Technology Services (ITS) is able to match IP addresses with the owners of computers.

According to Helpdesk Manager John Hammond, students identified by the RIAA or MPAA receive an e-mail from ITS and must take their computers to the Helpdesk, where they are required to uninstall file-sharing software and delete illegally obtained files. Until they do that, the students are still able to use e-mail, Blackboard and other University websites, but are kept on restricted access until they resolve the issue. Ravishankar noted that the University has taken this action five times this semester.

If ITS receives notices about violations by a single student on three separate occasions, then that student is referred to the Dean’s office, though this has yet to occur.

According to Ravishanker, the RIAA has also recently been issuing pre-litigation notices, which may require schools to identify student offenders directly to the RIAA. In these cases, matters would have to be settled between the offender and the RIAA, which can potentially involve lawsuits.

“[Illegal file sharing] can get ugly and serious very quickly, and our hands are tied in terms of how much we can do and what we can do to protect the student,” he said.

ITS has yet to receive a pre-litigation notice for any student. Luis Rodriguez, the assistant manager of the Cardinal Technology Center and recent alumnus of Bates College, described instances at Bates where he believed that students had to pay settlement fines of thousands of dollars.

“From what I’ve gathered, Wesleyan ITS is much more involved and present [in the process of dealing with copyright violators],” he said.

While Internet users are entitled to a certain degree of privacy, the Wesleyan Computer Usage Policy specifically states: “University staff are authorized to investigate alleged or apparent violations of University policy or applicable law involving University Systems using whatever means appropriate.”

Peer to peer file sharing can be legal as long as it does not violate copyright laws. For example, people can share music, pictures, videos and other files of their own creation. Additionally, there are music and movie downloading sites which are legal and, in some cases, free to use, some of which are described on the Wesleyan University Intellectual Property website.

In its efforts to discourage illegal file sharing, ITS has chosen not to install systems that will allow ITS to monitor individual Internet usage. According to Ravishankar, the University lacks the resources to install such mechanisms and is not interested in doing so, unless required by law.

“We don’t want to sit around and watch people downloading. That’s not our job.”.

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