September 10, 2002

C.U. Cracks Down on File Sharing Students

Print More

If you download copyrighted files on Cornell’s network you may soon find yourself visiting the Judicial Administrator (J.A.), according to Tracy Mitrano ’95 Law, a policy advisor to Cornell Information Technology (CIT).

“The recording industry is getting more sophisticated,” said Judicial Administrator (J.A.) Mary Beth Grant. “Cornell is not monitoring computer users.”

Nationwide, record companies are more drastically cracking down then ever before on illegal file sharing of copyrighted materials on campus.

“On our networks, it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel,” Mitrano said, who is Cornell’s agent responsible for carrying out the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

When a record company provides notice to Mitrano that copyrighted material has been abused she requests that the individual immediately stop transferring copyrighted materials and notifies the J.A.

If a student does not respond to Mitrano’s request to stop exchanging copyrighted files, CIT may block that student’s internet access.

“Yeah, it’s really annoying,” said Scott McBride ’05, “But I can’t argue that they’re doing something other than following the law.”

The University may feel the same way about enforcing the law.

“There is no one who takes pleasure in the fact [that we have to punish students],” Mitrano said.

If Cornell does not take action to stop specific copyright violations once it has been notified of them, under the DMCA, a record company could sue the University.

The record companies famously sued and shut down the first file-sharing network, Napster although other copycat programs have since emerged.

Last year, over 60 students were caught exchanging copyrighted materials, according to Mitrano. Already this year, she has received between twenty and twenty-five notifications.

Yesterday alone, she received five notifications.

“A good percentage of students call me in a panic,” Mitrano said. “Many act as if this is their first time hearing about this.”

She said that the increase in record industry vigilance is due to their better technology that crawls the web, searching for copyrighted materials.

While those living on-campus may face tight scrutiny, file exchangers off-campus are not likely to be tracked down, according to Mitrano.

The J.A.’s office receives all cases and metes out fines and community service for violators.

“The students are on notice that they are in violation of campus code,” Grant said. “There are consequences.”

Cornell’s implementation of the DMCA has attracted controversy even outside of campus.

Ernest Miller, a Yale Law School student and a digital law project member said that a memo on the DMCA sent to Cornell students was, “riddled with errors” and a, “scare tactic more than anything else.”

Miller and Mitrano both agree that the DMCA poses further legal questions.

“There is not a procedure if you feel that the copyright owner is wrong,” Miller said. “This law can be easily abused.”

Although the law, “may prove to be unconstitutional, the recording industry seems to be winning all of their cases,” Mitrano said.

Mitrano defended the memo as, “not a policy, a legal brief or a law review article” but a warning to students that, “they will be targeted here.”

“The likelihood of the record industry going after ‘Joe College’