As the Recording Industry Association of America begins to sue college students across the country for violating copyright laws by downloading music using peer-to-peer file-sharing programs, Georgetown University is trying to find ways for students to protect themselves.

To combat rampant peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted materials over the university network, University Information Services has begun planning a program for next semester that will educate students about the Concept of Fair Use policy, which outlines policies about copyright violation, and the Digital illennium Copyright Act. New requirements established by UIS will require students to pass an exam that demonstrates that they understand copyright law as it pertains to file-sharing.

Students at schools such as Princeton University, Michigan Technical University and Rensselaer Polytechnic University have already been sued for copyright infringement.

The students in question helped create servers that allowed others to download copyrighted materials. Any person who acts as a server can legally be sued for $750-$150,000 per song.

The DMCA gives greater authority for different industry associations to litigate against file-sharers and includes provisions that clarify the rights of copyright owners and the responsibilities of online service providers to guard against privacy.

Despite the recent lawsuits, Jimmy Buckley (MSB ’06) remains unfazed about filesharing.

“I know that there are people out there doing worse things than downloading some music every day,” he said.

Though many who continue to download do so without fear of prosecution, they should not be so confident, according to Dave Lambert, vice president of information services and Chief Information Officer.

“For multiple reasons we advise students to take the current version of Kazaa off of their computers,” Lambert said. “What the RIAA is going after are people who are providing music to others. With Kazaa you can become a large-scale information provider without even knowing it, which is a pretty high risk to take.”

In order to educate students about the consequence of filesharing, students will take an exam after returning from winter break. The exam will focus on the DMCA, as well as the Concept of Fair Use policy, so that all students know the legal risks they are taking when they download media from programs such as Kazaa. UIS intends to make an online exam similar to the exam on the honor code first-year students must complete this semester, according to Beth Ann Bergsmark, the director for academic and information technology services.

Though nothing is definite, UIS hopes to tie the results of the exam into pre-registration, Bergsmark said.

Bergsmark stressed the importance of students understanding the law, as legally the university cannot offer student identity protection or legal counsel if students are subpoenaed by the RIAA.

“If subpoenaed, we have to follow established procedures of the university. All subpoenas go to the general council office, and the university could be compelled to give out student information,” Bergsmark said.

“It’s also important for students to be aware that they have a false sense of anonymity. Each student’s IP address connects them to Georgetown, to their building, to their room number. No one is anonymous,” Ardoth Hassler, associate vice president for UIS, said.

Although no students have been sued, the university, along with many other universities, continues to receive letters of complaint regarding copyright infringement on campus from the RIAA and related industries, including the Motion Picture Association of America, and entertainment companies, including Sony and Universal.

According to Lambert, the university has seen an increase in the number of complaints received since last September, when the university averaged about four complaints each month. Hassler estimates that in spring of 2003 the number jumped to 150 letters each month.

“We respond to every complaint,” Bergsmark said. “Complaints involving students are handled by the Office of Student Conduct and UIS. Repeat offenders can face disciplinary action through the student judicial process and it can go on a student’s record.”

If infractions continue, students can be disconnected from the network. Bergsmark warned about the implications of disciplinary action.

“People need to think about their future career plans, and the costs that they could face if they are caught,” she said. “Also, significant staff time and resources from both UIS and the Office of Student Conduct have been diverted to respond to these complaints at the expense of other activities.”

But problems with using file-sharing programs go beyond copyright infringement, Hassler said.

“When you put yourself in an illegal arena, there is going to be more illegal activity than copyright infringement,” Hassler said. “There are a lot of `trojan horse’ programs out there that look safe, but really contain viruses. When you deal in illegal space, you deal with other dangers,” she said.

For Kate Reynolds (COL ’04), this was a big factor in her decision not to download the program onto her new laptop, although she does have it on her home computer.

“I am not going to install it again because I got so many viruses. You don’t know if the people you download from might unintentionally give you a virus,” she said.

Additionally, programs including Kazaa can install “spyware,” programs that track every Web site a user visits.

“A lot of viruses you see come from there. Programs like spyware are also responsible for the multitude of pop-ups students get,” Hassler said.

UIS does not monitor student downloads for content but it does monitor bandwidth usage, which involves checking the size downloaded material for network management.

“We don’t want to look at content, that implies censorship and the university is not going to do that,” Hassler said. “However, we have to minimize the virus situation and ensure we are abiding by university policy, regulations and laws.”

If a student downloads or shares between 50 to 100 gigabytes per week then they can affect other people’s ability to use the network.

“Under the Computer Systems Acceptable Use Policy, the Georgetown community has technology resources available for its use,” Hassler said. “However, no one person can monopolize a lot of resource at one time. Analogous to the library, everyone can use it, but no one can check out all the books at once.”

Though currently there are few alternatives to downloading music off the Internet besides purchasing it, there may soon be more options. Lambert is currently on a joint committee on file-sharing comprised of higher education associations and industry associations, including the RIAA and the MPAA, that is searching for alternatives for students, and the music industry, which has suffered from the increased use of file-sharing programs.

“We have made overtures to various tech companies to find a way to promote music over the network scheme for pay, but nothing like what’s already on the market,” he said. “If those companies could compete with free, they would be in competition already.”

Though Lambert said he is unsure of what alternatives the committee may find, the committee has begun searching for a program to run a pilot test.

Reynolds is one student who is interested in the results.

“I would definitely do that, if it’s a safe alternative,” she said.

However, Buckley thinks the music industry will continue to suffer despite these efforts.

“The thing about this is whoever wins the fight against Kazaa and sites like it, someone else will just find a loophole and do something very similar,” he said. “It seems like they’ll never win.”

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