November 13, 2001

C.U. Nabs Five for Illegal Downloads

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What do Napster, Gnutella, Kazaa and Morphius all have in common? They all facilitate the illegal trading of copyrighted material.

According to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) passed in 1998, exchanging or obtaining copyrighted movies, games, music or videos over the Internet is a direct violation of the U.S. Copyright Act, and such infractions are becoming an issue for Cornell.

Tracy Mitrano J.D. ’95, policy advisor and director of computer law and technology at the University, recently processed five new notices of copyright infringement within the Cornell community.

Since the shut-down of Napster, many other programs have stepped in to keep the trading of music alive. While unlike Napster, most of these programs do not operate off of a central database, this only means that instead of a business, individuals are held responsible.

“What’s more significant to the student is that it doesn’t matter whether the specific program is legal or illegal. The downloading of copyrighted material without permission of the copyright holder is illegal,” Mitrano said in an interview last Wednesday.

In a recent e-mail from the Office of Information Technologies (OIT), students were notified that large corporations, such as Sony, that hold big-name copyrights in the entertainment industry, use scanners to detect illegal file-sharing and transport.

“These scans target universities,” Mitrano explained. ” It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”

As explained by OIT, once a file is detected the corporation can track the IP address. They will then send the holder of that network airspace (such as Cornell) a notice or complaint of copyright infringement. Using the IP address Cornell can directly identify the computer owner.

Because most students run their programs through their Cornell Internet connections, a student found to be downloading illegal files must first face University consequences. Such a copyright breach can result in the suspension of a student’s NetID, and includes a meeting with the Judicial Administrator.

In addition, depending on the severity of the infringement, the corporation may press charges. As stated in the DMCA, the violator can be charged $30,000 for each copyright infringement.

Still to many students, downloading music has become routine.

Dave Early ’03 said, “I asked a friend, ‘how do you download songs now that Napster’s gone?’ They said audio galaxy or Morphius.”

Some students continued to use Napster even after it was declared illegal, because it simply continued to work.

“I heard several times that Napster was shut down, but all I saw was a decrease in volume. Less people were using it, ” said Francis Kim ’03.

David Byers ’02 said, “I used [Napster] for a couple of months after the ruling and then decided to shut it down. It just became increasingly harder to get good songs.”

While corporations may not actually pursue an individual student, they will sue universities. According to a May 1 article published in this year, Metallica and Dr. Dre sued three universities, claiming they were allowing their students to use Napster. As a result, the universities blocked or sharply restricted the use of software on their campuses.

As an alternative to downloading illegal files, there are several Internet radio stations available, and according to Mitrano, the establishment of legal sites may not be far behind. In the meantime, when asked about alternatives to sites like Gnutella and Morphius, Mitrano simply said, “Don’t download material. There’s no legal way to perform an illegal act.”

In regards to the DMCA, Mitrano noted, “In many ways, this is a civil rights issue. There’s a lot that is very problematic to Internet issues.”

Archived article by Signe Pike