As the recording industry cracks down on illegal downloading, students and big-name colleges become targets of major lawsuits. Flagler’s preventive measures provide legal safeguard.
By Bill Weedmark
While Flagler College has measures in place to prevent illegal music downloading on campus, downloading from your home can still get you in trouble both legally and from the college.
Recently, the Recording Industry Association of America launched a new legal campaign against colleges in an attempt to curb on-campus downloading. More than 800 letters were sent out to major universities offering illegal downloaders an option to settle before lawsuits are filed.
Flagler’s network blocks provide legal protection for the college, but students who download illegally are still at risk.
According to Dean of Student Services Daniel Stewart, a statement in the student handbook indicates that a violation of any local, state or federal laws is a violation of college rules and regulations, and students living off-campus who download illegally could still face punishment by the college if they were sued by the RIAA.
“I would have to look more closely as this may be a civil matter between the recording company and the individual,” Stewart said. “I do believe the downloading is a federal offense.”
Students living on-campus at Flagler don’t really have to worry about being the targets of lawsuits from the RIAA due to college blocks on downloading sites and software.
“Flagler has taken a couple of different approaches,” said Will Jackson, Flagler’s technology services network engineer. “One is that we have purchased some software and some hardware that will restrict all peer-to-peer activity, which is one of the better known ways to share files. We also have filtering that looks at peer-to-peer activity and determines what they are, and we actually stop the packets from going through the system.”
Jackson said that the college first began blocking access to download sites and programs three years ago when the dorms were wired for the Internet. He said the college was approached by a lawyer who suggested that Flagler take steps to prevent illegal downloading. This would prevent the college from being held liable for student activity.
“The record industry, at the time, would not go for students that have no money. They’d go for the people who are providing them with the Internet, so that put the college at a liability,” Jackson said. “As long as we can show that we have taken the steps that we have to prevent and restrict downloading, then we should not be liable.”
Sophomore Erik Cozzi, 19, said even though he can’t download music on campus due to the blocks, he will continue to download music once he goes home. He also said that he didn’t understand why the RIAA would target college students.
“It seems like a waste of time because college students don’t have any money,” he said.
In the initial wave of the RIAA’s new anti-piracy efforts, which began Feb. 28, 400 notices were sent to 13 universities, which include Syracuse University and the University of Southern California. The letters informed the universities that one of their students or staff had been caught downloading music illegally on campus networks, and that a lawsuit against them would move forward if they did not settle.
“This is not our preferred course, but we hope that students will understand the consequences of stealing music and that our partners in the college community will appreciate the proactive role they can play,” said RIAA President Cary Sherman in a press release announcing the new campaign.
On March 21, the RIAA expanded the program and sent out 405 additional litigation letters to 23 more colleges, including the University of California — Los Angeles and all eight campuses of the University of Wisconsin system.
Under the RIAA’s new approach, after the university forwards the letter to the appropriate user, that person can settle the claims against them at a discounted rate before a lawsuit moves forward.
Since Flagler has taken measures to curb illegal downloading, it’s unlikely that the college will be among the universities targeted by the RIAA. Still, students should be wary of downloading songs illegally at home, as individual users can and have been targeted whether they download from college networks or their homes.
Senior Michael Jones, 22, realized the scope of the RIAA’s anti-piracy efforts when his best friend, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was sued by the RIAA. Jones’ friend, also 22, requested to remain anonymous, as the stipulations of his settlement stated that he didn’t discuss the specifics of the case.
Jones’ friend regularly used Limewire, a peer-to-peer file sharing program, and had ended up sharing 11-terabytes of music. His computer was always connected to the Internet via a high-speed line, and with Limewire open all day, users all over the world had constant access to the 200 gigabytes of MP3s on his hard drive.
“He got a letter in the mail from the RIAA, a letter in the mail from an attorney’s office that was representing the RIAA and he was also contacted by the university,” Jones said. “He took it to court and realized that a 20-year-old college student is not as deeply pocketed as the RIAA, and that presents a huge problem because we can only go so far before we run out of money and then it’s, what will they take from us?”
While Jones did not know the exact amount of the settlement agreement, he said that it fell between $4,000 and $5,000. Though the case never went to court, the whole process of legal wrangling lasted for an entire school year.
“The college wouldn’t help him out, obviously, because then they would have been condoning [file sharing],” Jones said. “So he found a lawyer to help him out. They just realized the best thing for him to do was to pay it out.”
While the RIAA has been using lawsuits to target individual users since 2003, the new initiative targeting colleges and universities is an attempt to drive the message home to college students.
“The theft of music remains unacceptably high and undermines the industry’s ability to invest in new music,” said RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol. “This is especially the case on college campuses.”
Students, however, don’t all think illegal downloading hurts artists or the industry. Sophomore Adam Pierce, 20, said downloading only hurts artists if their sole concern is making money rather than making music.
“I don’t think it’s wrong to download free music,” he said. “I think it’s wrong what we get charged for music.”
Junior Nicole Ongalo, 19, said she believes illegal downloading is wrong, but she still does it. Since Flagler blocks the sites and programs she normally uses, she gets her music on campus by burning CDs from friends.
“I think that these people are making enough money as it is, and I’m sure there are a lot of people using Limewire, so I’m sure it’s hurting overall sales,” she said. “But they have enough money … I’m not worried about them.”
Jackson said it is very unlikely that a student could get around college blocks and download music, but he said that if that were to occur, it would be reported to Student Services.
“I can assure you disciplinary action would take place, as every student signs a statement regarding not using the school network for illegal activity,” Stewart said. “I believe the statement also addresses trying to circumvent the blocks the school has placed on the network.”
Danielle Marsh contributed to this article.