Freshmen File Sharing

Aug 312005
Authors: Dominic Graziano, Jenny Ivy

For some CSU students the inconvenience of actually paying for music may be a formality of the past.

After about two weeks of adjusting to CSU culture and the new school year, many new students find themselves longing for the certain familiarity they can find while listening to their favorite songs.

What many students living within these residence halls don't realize is that continually obtaining those favorite songs through illegal file-sharing programs may cost them a lot more than a slap on the wrist from both CSU and corporate recording industries.

As if privacy wasn't already an issue for students living in the cramped residence hall rooms, students must now be aware that big brother, CSU, is watching for any unusual connection activities taking place within its Internet network.

Napster, one of the first free, file-sharing programs, paved the way for similar programs that give students the ability to get free music, movies, games and software from other people over the Net.

One student who is living in Allison Hall for his second year has been downloading music for more than seven years.

Last year alone, this student, who prefers to be referred to as Optical 3.5, downloaded more than 500 songs. He currently has more than 8,400 pirated songs on his hard drive. At an average of 3 minutes per song, that is in excess of 400 hours of music.

The Department of Housing and Dining Services has a very strict policy regarding the downloading of copyrighted materials.

Within residence halls, students must abide by a "three strikes and you're out" policy regarding the misuse of the university-provided network.

As a reminder of the policy, Housing and Dining Services has made a flyer available to all residence halls.

The flyer, a collaboration of Technology Services and Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct Services, spells out the steps taken against students found to be downloading and sharing illegal files using the university's servers. The first step taken is a letter sent to the student saying they've been caught.

"The majority of people get the idea after the first warning," said Craig Chesson, assistant director of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct Services. "They realize they signed something that said [university Internet] should only be for educational uses."

While the educational sanctions handed down by Chesson are usually in the range of an ethics class or a research reaction paper on illegal downloading, the federal punishments are more severe by comparison.

Lisa Culpepper, director of Student Legal Services, said someone that downloads music illegally could spend 3 to 10 years in a federal prison. Based on quantity and intent, fines ranging from a minimum of $250 to a maximum of $10 million await people who are caught with illegal files on their computer.

University students are now being targeted by lawsuits, "presumably because [universities are] a high-density location for the demographics of music listeners who might feel 'budgetarily constrained' from purchasing [music]," wrote Culpepper in an e-mail interview.

In May, the Recording Industry Association of America filed 91 infringement lawsuits against students at 18 universities across the nation for illegally downloading and sharing copyrighted files.

Reacting to this decision, Bill Davis, network security administrator for Housing Technology Services, said students who use the CSU housing technology network also could potentially face lawsuits from industries such as RIAA if they continue to download and share copyrighted audio and video files.

"I know that other universities have been subjected to lawsuits," Davis said. "I would assume that if other peer universities are at risk, then CSU could be as well."

Just this week, Davis said four CSU students using the network had their Internet connection turned off for "unusual kinds of traffic."

Davis said housing services turned off their Internet connection because of unusually high levels of connection requests.

While Davis said it could not be confirmed that these connection requests were illegal, the fact that there were essentially more than 500 requests per minute made these activities appear unusual.

"If you want to go to a Web site, your computer makes a request to the Web server at CSU to download their Web page," Davis explained. "Each page has icons and each one of those icons are downloaded separately, so if I request a Web page, that's making a connection request. But who would sit down at their computer and request 500 different web pages in one minute?"

While CSU does not monitor the content of these requests, Davis said the university is aware students are making these requests.

Even though CSU may not have the knowledge that file-sharing activity is illegal, corporate industries have the ability to intervene by monitoring any copyrighted content that has been sent out to others without payment via the Internet.

"Sometimes (music industries) may watermark," said Davis, who explained that watermarking involves an electronic signature placed on a file. That watermark then identifies a specific copyright and can determine where that file is being transferred.

Upon the first offense if caught, Davis said students are required to delete all unusual programs and files before their Internet connection can be turned back on.

If a second offense occurs, students are required to perform a full anti-virus and anti-spam check on their computers.

Checking for viruses and spam is not something students using CSU's network are allowed to do on their own. Student violators must obtain a receipt from a certified technician to check their computer system, costing the student between $75 and $100, Davis said.

According to Optical, getting copyrighted files is just as easy as downloading a "decent" file-sharing program on the Internet and finding the music you want.

Kendra Martinez, a sophomore health and exercise science major, was not too fond of the fact that her Internet usage could be monitored.

"I thought it sucked," Martinez said. "I went from unlimited free downloads to worrying about being caught by the school."

Martinez, who said she usually ended up buying the music she downloaded, added she was told about the policy when she lived in Parmalee Hall last year.

Chris Killingsworth, a freshmen chemical engineering major, is currently a resident of Corbett and was told the same thing.

"My resident assistant told me I could get caught and fined if I was downloading music," Kilingsworth said, "but it would be nice to get music for free."

According to Optical, getting copyrighted files is just as easy as downloading a "decent" file-sharing program on the Internet and finding the music you want.

Even though the rules and punishments are spelled out to every person who lives in the residence halls, Optical remains resilient.

"I am well aware of the school's policy regarding file-sharing," Optical said. "It makes sense legally, but it is very easy to get around."

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