On-campus students who once enjoyed free downloads from programs like Kazaa and Morpheus using UM’s network connection are now being forced to find other ways to access music and movie files. Universities across the nation have clamped down on peer-to-peer file exchanges after the Recording Industry Association of America recently slapped 261 downloaders with lawsuits, each with the potential to total millions of dollars.
Students at UM returned to the dorms after the summer to find flyers warning that, in an effort to protect the server from the Blaster Worm virus, users of file-sharing programs would have their internet connection deactivated by Information Technology [IT]. It wasn’t a mere threat; soon several students found themselves calling up IT to find out how to get their access back.
“When you download from a program like Kazaa, there could be a virus attached to any file,” Rishi Ganga, IT security manager, said. “You could download a movie and watch it, and not even know that you’ve compromised the security of your PC.”
But viruses are not the only threat lurking.
IT realizes that by deactivating users of peer-to-peer programs, they’re denying them the ability to download copyrighted materials – and the chance to be sued.
“We take a stand to inform and protect students. We don’t have a Big Brother type of attitude; we’re not out to catch you,” Ganga said. “The most we can do is tell students about the possible ramifications of sharing copyrighted material and use technology to try to prevent that.”
In the event that a student is sued for downloading music via a campus connection, the University would not be liable. According to policy A060 of IT Policy and Procedures, “The individual who is distributing the copyrighted materials is responsible for any copyright infringement.”
That same policy also lists prohibited network uses that could result in disciplinary action. However, the current emphasis is on preventative measures rather than disciplinary procedures.
Afraid of being sued, or at the very least being disconnected from the UM network, many students have opted to begin paying for music downloads.
Freshman Caralyn Pearson uses Apple’s popular iTunes service to acquire songs. Her Mac can’t host Kazaa, and she had grown tired of using the program on her PC at home anyway.
“Whenever I used Kazaa I would download songs and they’d be cut off or have weird sounds in them. With iTunes it’s a lot better because the sound is quality, and I’m not stealing anymore,” Pearson said.
iTunes charges $0.99 per song and celebrated its ten millionth download (Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”) on Sept. 3, just four months after its launch.
PC users can try services like buymusic.com or emusic.com. The latter charges $10 a month and allows members to download all the music they want, providing they follow rules about burning songs and the number of computers the files can be shared with – usually three or less.
“I use emusic.com. It’s cheap,” Justin Archie, junior, said. “I usually buy CDs anyway, but now I can use this to preview songs and see if the CD is any good.”
But IT knows that some students will persist in downloading music for free, by opting for programs that run on smaller peer-to-peer networks. That is why they are now forcing all on-campus users of common file-sharing programs to share a narrower bandwidth, a tactic called “throttling.”
With this measure implemented, users who try to download large files could find their connection to be very slow or altogether halted.
Approaches by other Florida universities to curb on-campus downloads have been more drastic. At FIU, students using campus connections can’t receive any files larger than 13 megabytes or send any larger than 5 megabytes.
UF has taken the most extreme steps, using locally-developed software to prevent any file sharing whatsoever, whether the material is copyrighted or not. After three offenses, students could lose their internet connection indefinitely. During its first few weeks of deployment this summer, about one in every six on-campus students lost connectivity. Many users were again shut down in the first days of the fall semester.
“I was booted off the internet simply because I had Kazaa on my computer,” said Eric Pendergraft, a freshman at UF, said. “UF’s computer system has many bugs in it, and I ended up being offline for three days, which was a drag because there was important stuff like registering and payments that I had to do online.”
For assistance with network-related problems or if you have questions regarding peer-to-peer networks or file downloading, contact Information Technology at 305-284-6565, option three, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Samantha Riepe can be contacted at email@example.com.