Online copyright law effects MU students

IATS is penalizing students for sharing digital files.
Sunday, November 16, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:24 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

The next time MU freshman John Hall wants to watch a movie, he’ll pay to see it.

Recently, Hall downloaded the movie “Freddy vs. Jason” using a peer-to-peer networking software called Kazaa. Not long after that, he was served a copyright infringement notice because he was sharing the movie over the Internet. Because of the violation, Hall was required to attend a class on safe computing, hosted by MU’s Information and Technology Services. “I received a phone call from IATS, and when I called them back, they looked up my name and told me exactly what time I got caught and what movie it was,” Hall said.

The one-hour class, “Safe and Legal Computing,” has been implemented this fall for students who are caught illegally file-sharing. Led by Brad Wilders, a systems security analyst for IATS, the class explains the history of the copyright and how it works, along with the principle of fair use, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the repercussions of illegal file-sharing.

One such repercussion is the threat of being sued. The Recording Industry Association of America has filed suit against dozens of Internet users who were caught sharing copyrighted material. The RIAA also subpoenaed various Internet-service providers for the names of about 1,500 additional file-swappers in late August.

IATS has yet to be subpoenaed, but copyright infringement notices, such as the one received by Hall, are becoming increasingly frequent. So far this calendar year, IATS has had to serve more than 250 of the notices to MU students, Todd Krupa, communications officer for IATS, said.

“We receive an e-mail from the copyright holder and notify the user at the computer address provided,” Krupa said. “If they’re violating the copyright, it is our obligation to serve the notice.”

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 requires Internet service providers to terminate access by people who are repeat offenders of illegal file-sharing and to cooperate with investigations.

“If we do not interact with the copyright holder, the university can be held responsible,” Krupa said. “We have to mitigate our own risk.”

On the first notification of an infringement, a student’s Ethernet port is shut off. If the student attempts to use the Internet by plugging into a roommate’s port, he or she is flagged for disciplinary action.

The student is required to attend the one-hour course and sign an agreement that says he or she will stop sharing copyrighted material before being allowed access to the Internet through MU’s system.

Jacob Blair, another freshman who was at the class Monday night, said he was not directly notified by IATS

“I called (IATS) after my Internet had been turned off for, like, a week,” Blair said. “They told me I had been caught. I think it was because of the movie ‘Underworld.’ ”

Students served with a second notice lose Internet access for the remainder of the semester and must meet with the Office of Student Judicial Affairs. They might also have to write a term paper about computing.

Second violations are referred to the office of Student Judicial Affairs, which handles academic dishonesty.

On a third offense, students lose their Internet access for the rest of the time they live in the residence hall, and they could face suspension or expulsion.

Blair and Hall both said the information was helpful.

“I learned a lot,” Hall said. “I didn’t know exactly how they track what you do.”

Sentiments similar to Hall’s were what led IATS to develop the course in the first place.

“In talking with the students who we’ve served the notices, we noted that there was a lack of awareness of what copyright really was,” Krupa said.

Because the students attended the course and signed the agreement, their MU Internet service will be restored. They still, however, face the possibility of being sued by copyright holders.

As for future downloading, Hall said he is done. “I’ll just use my friend’s computer,” he said with a laugh as he pointed toward Blair.

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