Some students cannot resist the temptation of free music and movies that can be downloaded from the Internet using file-sharing software like LimeWire or BitTorrent.
“Why pay for something when you can get it for free?” junior actuarial science major Jeffrey Brown said. “It is never going to stop. You cannot stop people from stealing.”
Since the beginning of this semester, Temple received numerous notices from the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America stating students have been using Temple’s network to illegally download copyrighted material.
These notices have been coming to Temple for several years, and it was because of these notices that the university’s policy prohibiting file sharing was created.
“We used to get a bunch of them, so we were concerned about legal action,” said Chief Information Security Officer Ken Ihrer. “We put in some products to stop peer-to-peer file-sharing and for the longest time, they were effective. We would get maybe three or four [students] a semester, but this semester, it has increased.”
Normally, when a student tries to download or use LimeWire or any other file-sharing software on Temple’s network, he or she is blocked by a filter.
Lately, due to newer versions of file-sharing software, students have been able to get around the filter. This has become such an issue that Information Security sent out a memorandum to students in campus residence halls warning them they could have their internet connections disabled if they use file-sharing software.
“Most of our students would not go into a Walmart, take a CD and put it in their pocket and walk out,” Ihrer said. “Basically, that is what you are doing when you take copyright material and download it to your computer.”
Since the notices from the RIAA and MPAA threaten legal action against students, Temple responds by presenting its file-sharing policy, which shuts down offending students’ Internet accesses to avoid potential lawsuits.
Temple is not alone with this issue. The RIAA sent similar notices to Drexel University, Ohio State University, Columbia University and numerous other schools. MPAA has filed lawsuits in the past against students at Boston University and Carnegie Mellon University, according to the respective organizations’ Web sites.
“We are usually able to nip this in the bud right off the bat,” Ihrer said. “So, we have not been in jeopardy of a lawsuit for several years because of our proactive stance.”
Temple tracks students who are using file-sharing software by using the IP addresses provided to them by the RIAA and MPAA. Information Security then turns the IP addresses over to Network Services, which shut down the student’s Ethernet port in his or her residence hall.
When students realize their Internet connections are no longer available, they usually go to the university’s Help Desk, only to find they’ve been flagged for downloading illegal material.
For the student to get his or her Internet access back, the Help Desk must take the student’s computer and remove all copyrighted material, as well as the software used to download said material.
Students must sign forms stating they are aware of the university’s file-sharing policy and that they will not violate the policy again.
Repeat offenders are sent to the University Disciplinary Committee. If large amounts of copyrighted material are downloaded, violators are also sent to the UDC.
On average, there are three or four first-time offenses per semester, but this semester, there were between 20 and 30 incidents.
“There are some technical reasons for that. Many of the file-sharing programs have changed,” Associate Director of Security Seth Shestack said. “It is a constant game of cat and mouse.”
The security filters track file-sharing software by the program’s signature, but the signature is changed many times, and it takes a few days before the filters pick up the new signature.
“People that manufacture these programs know that people like us are trying to filter them,” Shestack said. “They change them just enough so the signature becomes invalid and sneaks through.”
While students and other people may think they are anonymous on the Internet, everything a person does online leaves an audit that can be tracked.
“You are not anonymous on the Internet. There is no such thing,” Shestack said. “It is actually easier to get busted for doing something over the Internet than it is to stick a gun in someone’s face with a mask on and rob them and then run away.”
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.