Action to be taken against Direct Connect users

Liz Neukirch

Any Washington University student who used Direct Connect (DC) before it was shut down will receive either a warning letter or referral to the Judicial Administrator (JA), according to Matthew Arthur, director of ResTech.

As a result of the University’s DC investigation, the I.P. addresses of students who used the program were obtained, said Arthur in a meeting with the Student Union Senate Wednesday night. This identification does not include, however, how many files a student shared or downloaded. Arthur declined to comment on whether they have the I.P. addresses of every student who ever used the program.

Noting that every student signed an InRoom Data Connection Registration Agreement with ResTech before connecting to the University server, Arthur said first-time offenders and their respective Residential College Directors will be sent an email or letter from ResTech next week, explaining they have “strong reason to believe” that student has illegally downloaded materials on his or her computer. The student will have 48 hours to respond to the message, stating that he or she has gotten rid of the illegal files and will not share or illegally download copyrighted materials again.

“If they send me a written notice back, the student judicial code tells me that the student has deleted the music,” Arthur said. “I am not going to check their machine-but the honor code tells me that it’s been done and if it comes up again, then there will be consequences with the Judicial Administrator.”

In a letter to University network users yesterday, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Technology Jan Weller reminded students that “the use of file-sharing programs to access, acquire, and use copyrighted materials without permission is both inappropriate and illegal,” noting that violations of the University’s Computer Use Policy may be punishable under the University Judicial Code.

While the letter from ResTech will not go on a student’s permanent record, second-time offenders will be referred to the JA. If action is taken, the resulting charges will be recorded in that student’s permanent record.

“I think that the warning letters will get a mixed response-relief from some and worry from others,” said sophomore David Ader, speaker of the Senate. “I feel that students, for the most part, will take them seriously, but what I really hope comes out of this is discussion about the issue. We’re already trying to plan some kind of forum to help get the information that we heard tonight out to interested students.”

Any student who receives a letter or referral has the right to contest the charges against them, Arthur said. He encourages students to do so if the files they were sharing or downloading are not unauthorized copyrighted materials.

Although ResTech itself is not responsible for disciplining students, Arthur noted that students’ connections will be turned off in cases of “repeated violations.” While he does not know what will happen to the student or students who started DC, he said an individual who creates such a hub is technically responsible for everything its users do with the program.

“From my perspective as network manager…we want to make sure our bandwidth isn’t taken up by lots of independent users and that we aren’t held liable [for students’ copyright infringements],” Arthur said.

The University started managing bandwidth when students began using Napster several years ago because they were using up more and more of the available bandwidth “with no end in sight,” Arthur explained. File sharing hubs in the past were similar to the Napster program, with all the available files on one machine, so that the bandwidth of a student running such a program would be significantly higher than that of any other student.

“[This year’s DC] did something I wasn’t aware it could do,” Arthur said of the program’s cataloguing of students’ files and enabling them to connect to one another’s computers directly.

Because of this direct peer-to-peer file sharing, no student’s bandwidth became high enough to cause suspicion, and ResTech was unaware of the problem. (They say that they now know what DC packets look like and will be able to detect them should a similar program arise.) Arthur said the article written by Riverfront Times staff writer Ben Westhoff is what led them to investigate. Although Westhoff denies that his story was the main reason for the University’s shutdown of DC, Arthur said the web address included in the article is what ultimately enabled them to figure out what was happening.

“At that point-when it’s shoved in our faces-we are responsible for looking into it,” he said.

In response to the Residential Computer Consultants (RCCs) working for ResLife who took part in the illegal file-sharing, Arthur said that, while he “should have known about it,” they will be disciplined in the same manner as other students. ResTech also intends to re-establish trust with its RCCs.

“This is tough for anybody…students [thought] ResTech [knew] and that it’s all right,” he said. “Technology is never going to beat this. This last round of DC has proven that. What we’ve decided is that we need to educate and communicate firsthand. Students [also] need to educate [themselves] on copyright rules.”

In her email, Weller encouraged students to review the University’s Judicial Code, Computer Use Policy, and InRoom Data Connection agreement.

Ader commented that while he believes there will be more scrutiny of file-sharing in the future, students will always find a way around the rules.

“The challenge is getting people to realize the consequences of breaking the rules, or perhaps molding the rules to fit what’s actually happening. It’s a lot like underage drinking-people simply don’t think that they will get caught. They don’t regularly see the consequences of similar actions so they become distanced from the problem,” he said.

At the end of Wednesday’s meeting, senators remarked that several universities have entered into contracts with Napster and other file-sharing services. Will the University ever offer such a program to its students?

Arthur said there are currently no plans to enter into such an agreement. Noting that cable was not available to students until they went to the administration in 1996, however, he added that a file-sharing program may be made available in the future if students really want it.

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