Illegal file sharing a growing problem

Author: Carol C. Bradley

Copyright violations can result in criminal, civil consequences

There’s been a recent uptick in the number of “notifications of copyright infringement” the University is receiving, says Robert Casarez, assistant director of residence life and housing.

The notifications come from copyright holders such as the Recording Industry Association of America, which tracks purportedly illegal file downloading and sharing activity to University ISP addresses.

The numbers are somewhat inexact, since there may be duplications, but in 2009-2010 there were about 450 notices. This year the number is closer to 1,000, “a really large increase,” Casarez says.

Most instances involve students, but faculty and staff have been claimed to be illegally downloading files as well, he adds.

What’s legal and what’s not? It’s simple, Casarez says. If it’s something you would normally pay for but you are downloading it for free, it’s probably not legal. When you download from a reputable site such as Amazon or iTunes and pay, it’s legal.

Peer-to-peer file sharing works like this: You download a program like “Limewire” and connect to a network of people downloading and sharing files. “It’s not one place or person,” he says. “Anybody connected can share and download. Your machine becomes a server, and anyone can download files from your hard drive and you from others. Since the network isn’t centralized, there’s no one way to shut it down.”

What’s being shared and downloaded might be music, movies, software, games or books. What users who illegally share or download aren’t doing is compensating the copyright holders for their time, the expense of creation and royalties. It doesn’t seem like the same thing as stealing a CD or a video game from a store, but that’s what it amounts to, Casarez says.

But while a download might be “free,” it can also be tracked and traced to your Notre Dame IP address, including a date and time. That allows copyright holders to track you down and seek redress.

If a copyright holder files a notice of claimed infringement, it goes first to Tim Flanagan, associate general counsel—the University’s registered agent for receipt of complaints of this sort. Casarez then tracks the reported activity to a particular computer and user.

While allegedly illegal file sharing is largely a student problem, improperly downloading and sharing copyrighted material is no less illegal for faculty and staff, says Flanagan. In some cases, violations have taken place on computers registered to others—visitors, or in some cases faculty or staff with multiple computers registered in their name.

“The responsible use policy applies to everybody on campus. And because copyright infringement involves a violation of the law, there could be consequences—criminal or civil sanctions, or University sanction,” says Flanagan.

For students, that can mean the creation to or addition to a disciplinary record, a monetary fine or requirement for service, loss of access to the University’s network resources or expulsion from the University.

Faculty and staff are subject to all available disciplinary procedures, including loss of computing privileges and other measures up to and including loss of employment.

The moral of the story, Casarez says, is to think twice before you download on the Internet and understand what you are doing. Illegal file sharing is like the mythical Hydra. “You cut off one head, and others pop up. We’re trying to be proactive and educate people.”

Visit more information on the responsible use of technology resources and the reproduction of copyrighted materials.