October 11, 2001

Student Caught in Copyright Violation

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The negative repercussions of illegal file sharing on the Internet have become a reality at Cornell this fall, as a student faces legal charges after being caught downloading copyrighted material by Sony.

“These corporations [Sony and other large media companies] routinely deploy scanning techniques that search the net for digital material for which they hold the rights,” said Tracy Mitrano, policy advisor of the Office of Information Technology (OIT), in an e-mail sent out to the Cornell student body. “The picking of certain people is fairly random.”

“Sony may have just been scanning for a certain song that this student happened to be downloading,” Mitrano said in an interview.

According to Mitrano, the University must take precautions laid out in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in order to indemnify itself from harsh legal implications.

“The DMCA has a ‘safe harbor’ provisions for Universities when students are caught downloading. If it follows a set of procedures, then a university is relieved of responsibility,” said Mitrano. “The University has to educate students about the laws surrounding copyright infringement and that is why a letter is now annually sent to students about file sharing and copyright.”

Mitrano emphasized, however, that the OIT, were not necessarily in total accordance with all the provisions of the DMCA.

“There is no feeling in the OIT to go after these offenses draconiously, we are just doing what we have to do to relieve the University,” said Mitrano. “There are many people at Cornell who advocate legislation to change the DMCA,” she added.

As to what causes Sony and other recording industry corporations to target College students, Mitrano sighted the potential financial gain.

“Sony and other corporations target universities in general because they have much deeper pockets than any individual. University’s have to actively take precautions otherwise Sony can collect oodles of damages.”

Students who are caught downloading copyrighted materials face disciplinary action at Cornell as well as the legal ramifications brought by the recording industry.

“When a community member uses their computer to breach copyright laws, it violates the computer policies,” said Mary Beth Grant, Judicial Administrator. “The typical educational sanction for a copyright violation includes agreeing to ‘cease and desist’ (that is, stopping the violating behavior), community work, writing a reflection paper, and receiving a disciplinary record (usually until graduation).”

The harsh implications of file sharing are clear, but it remains to be seen as to whether or not the student population will heed the warning of the University and the DMCA.

“I haven’t actually downloaded any material since I got the OIT’s e-mail,”

said Miriam Peterson ’04. “It definitely made file sharing seem more serious, but if the Cornell really wants to stop this, I think threatening to take away Resnet or some more immediate consequence would really make students more wary.”

Archived article by Leigh McMullan