In a week or so Dean of Students, David Strauss, will be sending a message to all WSU students reminding them that they should not be downloading copyrighted material (books, music, movies, software) illegally, and that the owners of those copyrights (especially of movies–MPAA and music–RIAA) are out looking for sites that distribute those files and will come after the distributors, which, in many cases, are the same people who did the downloading in the first place. This is because the software that handles downloading (BitTorrent and its competitors) not only helps you download content, but also makes it available to others to download from you.
My friend and colleague Tracy Mitrano, IT Policy guru at Cornell, recently wrote a great article in Inside Higher Ed on this issue. As Wayne State does, Cornell sends out a message (as required by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008) on the topic, and she usually asks students to write her with questions. The article is primarily a response to a question she got, and her answer is so thoughtful, I’d like to simply post a link to it here:
Further to discussions I have hosted about getting and playing copyrighted music, here’s an interesting discussion on a libertarian blog that I frequently read:
You probably noticed the cheerful note C&IT sent yesterday warning you about illegal filesharing. As you probably know, the RIAA and MPAA are attempting to combat the sharing of their copyrighted files through underground distribution systems such as BitTorrent. They do this by posing as downloaders and trolling for their copyrighted files, then sending an email to the owner of the network that is being used. For many years they have sent emails to Wayne State saying they have found illegal files on some IP address. C&IT is required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to find out who was using that IP address and send a ‘take-down’ notice to that person, ordering them to remove the offending files, and we have a fine, automated process to do just that. As we mentioned in the message, there may also be sanctions, such as fines if the address resolves to someone in the Residence Halls, and students are subject to the Student Conduct Code.
Okay, you’ve heard all of this before. What you may not have heard is that RIAA and MPAA are now going after the other internet service providers, beyond universities. They have made agreements with Comcast, AT&T and so on to do the same thing to users of those services (which includes pretty much everybody reading this). So, if you are sharing files illegally, they may go after you. There is a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ rule (i.e. they will warn you six times before they start limiting your download speed). You can read the details here:
A word to the wise.
A new bill being considered by the House would essentially give a few trade organizations the power to shut down anything on the web they don’t like. All they have to do is allege that it is storing unauthorized copyrighted material. While I can sympathize with artists who feel they are being ripped off by downloading, the potential for abuse of this law is enormous. More details here (commercial link includes an ad).
Educause, which is the national organization for university IT professionals (both the technical types, like network engineers and CIO’s, as well as those deeply involved in online learning and IT in the classroom), has released a formal response to the latest draft of this particular bill.
The response can be read here: