September 7, 2006

Students Caught For File-Sharing

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Most students on campus are already aware of the benefits of peer-to-peer programs, such as DC++, that allow them to download free music, television shows, and movies.
What many of these students are not aware of is that while they illegally download last week’s episode of their favorite television program, the entertainment industry might be tracking them, ready to report this copyright violation to Cornell officials.
According to Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant JD ’88, in this academic year alone, there have already been about ten cases of reported Digital Millennium Copyright violations, whereas between the academic years of 1996 and 2000, there were only about ten or fewer violations per year reported. This change may stem from a number of different reasons.
“We get referrals from both the music and movie industry,” Grant said. “Cornell does not monitor the network or individual computers for content as a practice.”
Numbers of reported violations first began to increase in the 2001 academic year. When the Student Assembly initiated a free two-year trial of Napster Music program however, the number of copyright infringements dropped slightly.
The Napster music program was similar to iTunes in the sense that it allowed students to legally purchase music through the internet. While it allowed students this benefit, they were unable to transfer the music onto MP3 players, a popular music device on campus, making the program an inconvenience to many.
With the conclusion of the program, S.A. president Kwame Thompson ’07 believes that it is possible freshman may illegally use media programs as a default.
Regardless of this, he believes that overall, Napster did not have a great role in reducing the number of digital copyright violations.
“In my eyes Napster didn’t have an effect [on the number of violations],” Thompson said. “I think it matters more for how others perceive us. It would be terrible if they target us because we don’t have a legal program.”
On the other hand, Tracy Mitrano, director of information technology policy, believes that the S.A. board’s decision may be responsible for the increase in perpetrators.
“[The increase] could be due to a number of factors, including the fact that Cornell does not have a legal media program anymore — such as Napster — due to the fact that the student assembly did not comprehensively address the issue last year,” Mitrano said. “Perhaps this year, with a new president who is more attuned to these issues, new possibilities might emerge. I certainly hope that they do.”
While students are now without legal means of downloading music, Cornell Information Technologies administrators are continuing to work to prevent illegal file sharing through a hands-free approach in which the university complies with the law and through a copyright education program.
Comparatively, other universities monitor their network for content or use programs such as Audible Magic or Red Lambda. These programs may check databases and discontinue such traffic if there is a match. Other universities have developed similar programs to shape technology on campus.