November 28, 2011

DC++ Shuts Down, Citing Legal Liability Concerns

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Cornell’s DC++ hub — a file sharing network that once illegally hosted more than 35 terabytes of music, video and other content — was shut down two weeks ago due to “massive liability,” the former owner of the server confirmed.

The student, who requested to remain anonymous because of legal concerns, said he stopped using the program and “nuked the hard drive” because of the risks entailed in operating the hub. DC++ is a centralized network, meaning all liability a copyright holder could raise for illegally shared content would come back to him, he said.

“I can’t afford millions of dollars to pay the Recording Industry Association of America or Motion Picture Association of America because other people are downloading or distributing illegal files,” he said. “No one wants to spend their life in legal battle.”

To his knowledge, no Cornell student has received a copyright notice for downloading files from DC++, he said.

Despite the risks and legal breaches, the student has encouraged previous DC++ users at Cornell to use another file-sharing program, Alliance, which in the DC++ forum, he claimed “eliminates liability, makes searching, downloading and browsing faster, completely hides us from off-campus users and upgrades us about 10 years into the modern era.” According to him, the program has since gathered 630 users.

Posts advertising Alliance have since cropped up on an online discussion board, Cornell Hub.

Will Najar ’13, a representative of the website, said that while some people have used the website’s forum to request invites to Alliance or distribute information about it, Cornell Hub has no connection to the network.

“Cornell Hub is not associated with the Cornell Alliance network, nor is it associated with the former DC++ network. The two are entirely different operations run by different people,” Najar said, even though a Twitter account linked to Cornell Hub’s stated in its profile, “Welcome to the only truly open, moderated and active forum on campus and the official home of Cornell’s DC++ hub.”

The anonymous student said that if he were caught, the ramifications could include fines up to $150,000 per infringement and criminal charges.

“If it does happen, my life is over,” the student said. “I could be sued for over a billion dollars.”

According to Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant J.D. ’88, the University has consistently dealt with students accused of copyright infractions since 2000.

“We do periodically get referrals from students using DC++, and it has always troubled me that there is a confusion about its legality,” she said. “Older students pass on the myth that it is legal to newer students, so I’ve always thought of it as one of those urban legends that will get students to unknowingly and unnecessarily take on risk.”

Grant stressed the importance of understanding copyright policies, noting that as the media industry is “vigilant” about wanting to protect its content, and students must recognize that “any type of civil disobedience can have ramifications.”

Though there is no precedent for what sanctions would be imposed on someone hosting a file-sharing program like DC++, Grant said that if the student responsible were to be referred to her office, the University would launch an investigation into the matter.

“I’m not unhappy to see DC++ being disassembled because I think it’s a risky business for students,” Grant said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that a Cornell Information Technology staff member warned the student who ran DC++ about the legal ramifications of his website. That statement was attributed to the student, who The Sun granted anonymity because of the potential legal consequences if his identify became public. The student has since claimed that he manufactured the story about CIT and that no CIT staff member actually contacted him. As this article originally noted, Tracy Mitrano J.D. ’95, director of information technology policy, maintains that she is not aware of any CIT staff member contacting the student.

Original Author: Akane Otani