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File Sharing: Cracking Down on College Campuses

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Even though it’s illegal, a lot of people think nothing of letting their friends have copies of their music, movies, and television shows. Others just download shared files from the internet as opposed to purchasing them. Universities are actually a major den of illegal downloading activity because the vast majority of college students use the high-speed Internet access provided by the schools to quickly and easily – and illegally – download files.

This isn’t a new trend, but things are about to change.

New regulations went into effect Thursday, July 1st which state that colleges and universities must “put in place plans to effectively combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material by users of the institution’s network” without hampering legitimate educational and research use.

What is File Sharing?

The practice of file sharing itself isn’t illegal, but the sharing of copyright protected files without authorization can land you in jail. A huge growth in illegal file sharing began in the late 1990s thanks to the increased popularity of mp3 music files. This lead to file sharing websites like Napster— an online music file sharing service created by Shawn Fanning while he was a college student at Northeastern University in Boston.

Napster gave people the ability to share their mp3 music files with other people that were also using the website, and this obviously lead to massive copyright violations of music. Record companies and music artists began suing Napster, and it was shut down by a court order. Despite all of the legal problems, Napster simply paved the way for other peer-to-peer file sharing programs that have been even harder to control.

College Students Breaking Laws by File Sharing

One Napster alternative was known as i2hub. It enabled files to be copied in a fraction of the time required by other file-sharing programs. It was a program designed by Wayne Chang, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He intended i2hub to be used by university and college students. i2hub users on different campuses could connect to each other—and share files—through Internet2, an accelerated network on college campuses that was unavailable to the general public.

In 2005, the Recording Industry Association of America filed copyright infringement lawsuits against 405 students at 18 different schools, and i2hub shut down after it was also threatened by the Recording Industry Association.

Universities Face Punishment for Allowing File Sharing

Thanks to a new provision of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, schools are becoming allies in the entertainment industry’s campaign to stop unauthorized distribution of copyrighted music, movies and TV shows. According to new regulations that took effect Thursday July 1, colleges that receive Title IV federal funding are now required to implement anti-piracy measures.

Or, as an Associated Press article by Eric Gorski puts it: “Starting this month, colleges and universities that don’t do enough to combat the illegal swapping of “Avatar” or Lady Gaga over their computer networks put themselves at risk of losing federal funding. “

The recording industry has backed down on suing illegal file-sharers, but it does send infringement notices to colleges. The Recording Industry Association of America reports that it has sent 269,609 of these notices to colleges and universities that are doing little to stop the trend of illegal file sharing.

“The problem campuses have is that commercial network providers are not doing anything to limit the amount of infringement on their networks or educate their customers about copyright law,” says Steven Worona, director of policy and networking programs for Educause, a higher education tech advocacy group. “Every fall, a new cadre of students arrives on campuses who have been engaging in infringing activity since the third grade.”

Colleges Must Crack Down on File Sharing

Now that colleges and universities that don’t comply with plans to combat file sharing on their network risk losing their eligibility for federal aid, what are they planning to do?

Middle Tennessee State University has a wireless system which scans each computer for peer-to-peer software before allowing it access to the Internet. If it finds any, a message pops up explaining that the user will have to remove the software before continuing. The school’s system also checks files being transferred over its system, looking for markers of illegal file sharing, and shuts down access to any user doing it.

Only time will tell if these new regulations will actually put a dent in illegal file sharing on college campuses, but it’s certainly in the school’s best interest to do their part in order to avoid losing their Title IV federal funding.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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