February 4, 2003

Cornell Makes New File-Sharing Policy

Print More

Cornell has recently increased its efforts to prevent the violation of copyright laws. Last week, an e-mail notice was sent to all Resnet account holders that outlined the new procedures for dealing with copyright violations.

This new fervor is due to recent legal developments, ever-present computer insecurities, and the fact that scanning agencies like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have stepped up their efforts to find copyright violators.

“We used to try to get in contact with a violator before blocking their Internet connection,” said Tracy Mitrano ’95 Law, a policy advisor to Cornell Information Technology (CIT).


There are three reasons why Cornell Information Technology (CIT) has decided to change the way it contacts violators. First, students tend to doubt the seriousness of notifications, instead considering them mere warnings. In addition, the detection of copyright violations is increasingly due to insecurities on students’ computers, not the use of file sharing programs. Cornell is also concerned with the need to protect itself, because recent legal developments have raised the stakes for Internet service providers.

A federal court in New Jersey recently ordered Verizon to reveal the identity of an alleged downloader to the RIAA. This is troubling news to some because it sets a landmark precedent. If all Internet service providers are required to reveal the identities of users accused of copyright infringement, private organizations like the RIAA could legally sue both Internet service providers and the accused violators.

If Cornell was to continue to allow file sharing, Cornell and the accused violator would be vulnerable to lawsuits.

Only a few months ago, according to Mitrano, the University received 10 to 15 copyright infringement notices per month. Now, the number averages about 20 per month.

Cornell does not scan individuals for copyrighted files; however, outside institutions like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Mediaforce, and Microsoft legally scan networks in search of alleged violations of copyright laws, and they contact Cornell if they find any violations on its server.

The RIAA, the most prominent player in the front against copyright infringement, has recently become more aggressive in its search for copyright violators, especially those on college campuses. The RIAA not only scans networks for copyright infringements, but also lobbies and advertises for the protection of copyrighted materials.

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires every Internet service provider to register with the Library of Congress an agent, such as Mitrano, who receives violation notifications.

When Mitrano receives an infringement notice from an agency, she forwards the e-mail to the student. The e-mail lists some of the songs that are in violation and tells the student that his or her Internet connection has been blocked until Mitrano receives a cease-and-desist statement by e-mail.

The violator is also referred to the Judicial Administrator (J.A.) and required either to pay $30 or perform six hours of community service. These punishments are enforced because downloading copyrighted material violates a section of the Cornell Code of Conduct.

“I don’t believe that downloading music is the same as stealing. I think that burning CDs from copyrighted material and selling it could be considered stealing, but not downloading for one’s own personal collection,” said Bryn Fuller ’05, who was referred to the J.A. last year for using the file sharing program Morpheus.

A “fair use” provision in federal copyright legislation allows for the use of small amounts of copyrighted material for educational and research purposes. Users of KaZaa, Morpheus and other file sharing software receive small bits of media from several people simultaneously. Because of this, scanning agencies often find only fragments of files when searching for copyright infringements. These fragments could fall within the fair use provision if a person were using them, for example, in a class assignment or PowerPoint presentation. But piracy hunters make no distinction between fair use and copyright infringement.

“In a court of law, fair use might provide some protection against the RIAA and MPAA, but it’s hard to justify downloading all the songs off your favorite album or an entire movie still showing in theaters under the pretenses of ‘education,'” said Evan Junek ’05.

Music downloading is a heated political issue and a source of controversy among many Cornell students. Some students blame the music industry for the shift.

“If the companies lowered their CD prices, I’m sure a lot of people would be more inclined to buy the original CDs instead of downloading potentially dangerous files off the net,” said Jamie Richard ’05.

“The music industry needs to suck up their minimal losses and turn this new fad into a positive thing for both the producers and consumers,” said Fuller.

Archived article by Jonathan Square