The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Government Pushes Schools to End Illegal Downloading

5 min read


Changes made to the Higher Education Opportunity Act in 2008 and implemented in 2010 have given the government new power to combat the illegal downloading of music, other media and software from the Internet on college campuses, which has been possible since the release of Napster in 1999.

Specifically, post-secondary schools are required to notify students annually of the consequences of copyright violation at both an institutional and federal level. In addition, schools receiving Title IV funding are required to have a plan in place to combat technological copyright violations.

In compliance with the changes to the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the University of Mary Washington sent an email to students at the beginning of the 2010-2011 academic year explicitly outlining what copyright violation is, how it can be avoided and the penalties for violating it, according to Associate Vice President of University Relations George Farrar. Along with the fine a court may levy against copyright violators, the school can also take disciplinary actions through the Judicial Review Board or Honor Council.

UMW’s Judicial Review Board stated in an email that it has not received a case in at least the past four years in which someone was charged with computer abuse.

Ray Tuttle, Director of Judicial Affairs and Community Responsibility, handles many of the allegations of Internet copyright violation.

“In the past, I have advised students who have been brought to our attention as allegedly participating in this behavior to remove any illegally downloaded files from their computer, plus any file-sharing software that they used,” Tuttle said.

He added that if any subsequent allegations of illegal downloading occur, the situation may be handled through a formal judicial process, and could even be construed as an additional honor code violation.

“Nothing prohibits the copyright owners themselves, or agencies representing them, from taking legal action on their own, outside of any actions taken by UMW,” Tuttle said.

Vice President of Student Affairs Douglas Searcy added that because the UMW Honor Code includes any type of lying, cheating or stealing, which illegal downloading could fall under, he does not believe it needs to be changed.

Unlike UMW, Tulane University in New Orleans takes a different approach to illegal downloading. The administration uses CopySense by Audible Magic Corp, which can “identify and block illegal sharing of copyrighted files while allowing other legitimate peer-to-peer uses to continue,” according to Tulane’s Internet Security website.

CopySense helps a college “fully comply with the provisions of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, which deals with illegal peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted works—without draining your IT resources,” according to the program’s website.

Students caught by CopySense receive a variety of escalating penalties.  They range from a warning that their activities are illegal and five minutes of blockage from the school’s Internet, to a warning and 48 hours of blockage from the school’s Internet, according to case studies on Audible Magic’s website.

According to Tulane sophomore Greg Guest, students at Tulane persist in illegally downloading media despite the school’s watchdog software.

Guest is one such student, himself.

“[At] Tulane, if they catch you [they] will suspend your Internet privileges for a couple days on the first offense and after that I believe the repercussions get worse until they finally don’t allow you to use the Tulane network,” Guest explained.

As UMW’s Internet service provider, Apogee oversees bandwidth allocations, technical support and in some cases, copyright violation complaints, among other duties.

According to Nat Nealeigh, Director of Marketing and Communications for Apogee, Apogee does not “have a policy [for illegally downloading media] unless the school has one.”

The company does not necessarily take action on students that download illegally, preferring to remain neutral and choose not to monitor students’ Internet usage. They do, however, relay letters to students from organizations like the Recording Industry of America and the Motion Picture Association of America when those organizations detect the illegal downloading of one of their products through Apogee’s systems.

Nealeigh said that Apogee has passed 40 notices on to UMW students in the past six months. Not all of those were necessarily violations.

Several students have admitted to illegally downloading files, and believe that it is extremely common.

“Everybody downloads,” said sophomore Nathan Bent.

Sophomore Wolana Day disagreed, saying she does not illegally download media or know how to do so.

Junior Shannon Swanson admitted to being tempted to download things illegally primarily because of financial reasons. Scoring free, powerful and expensive software like Adobe Photoshop, which otherwise starts at $699, is an attractive deal for Swanson.

“I don’t know how [UMW’s copyright policing system] works, but I’m pretty sure they don’t [screen for illegal behavior] as much as they’d like people to believe,” Swanson said, adding that her only real concern was the government or the Internet provider.

Jim Groom, an Instructional Technology Specialist in UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, offered another opinion.

“If you are worried about illegal downloading, and if you’re worried about copyright, then you might as well block YouTube and social media sites on the web, because every single person on campus is breaking copyright a hundred times a day,” he said.

Groom added that some of it was not even intentional.

“I don’t mean that everyone [is illegally downloading] songs or videos, but if they’re watching YouTube, nine times out of 10, they’re breaking copyright,” he continued.

He believes that universities are in a unique position in the overarching copyright debate, because the average person struggles for creative freedom, while corporations like the Motion Picture Association of America wrestle for greater control over their product.

Meanwhile, academics find themselves caught in between.

“If universities are about sharing learning and culture, then we are living in a world that is trying desperately to prevent [them from doing so],” Groom said.

He theorized that piracy is a symptom of a larger problem.  According to Groom, it is a side-effect of traditional business models that are used to dealing with the traditional world of newspaper, DVDs and books, suddenly encountering digital culture.

Assistant Professor of English Zachery Whalen is also invested in the future of copyright regulations, and specializes in New Media, a field greatly influenced by the Internet.

“Laws about it are so convoluted that when people come up with their own policies, they tend to be very conservative to avoid possible litigation,” Whalen stated regarding copyright laws.

Leighanne Ellis, Ben Yazman, Nancy Belle, Lainey Paek  and Taylor Schurmanns contributed to this report.