University warns students against downloading illegally
Student Technology Services sent out an e-mail last week warning students about copyright violations on campus, responding to a recent surge in illegal downloading on the residential campus.
In the last week alone, STS reported disciplining 12 students for illegal downloading in University residence halls. Typically, STS gets only two or three cases per year.
The e-mail has caused concern among students, who worry that the University is regulating their downloading and Internet use.
Students have heard rumors that STS is now blocking the downloading of torrent files. These rumors were eventually quelled when torrent downloads began working again on Tuesday.
John Bailey, manager of technical services and support at STS, explained that torrent files are typically the file transfer of choice for peer-to-peer file sharing.
“A torrent file is a type of file transfer where a single file is transferred from multiple locations on the Internet wherever pieces of the file exist,” Bailey said.
In other words, students who download torrents typically go to file-sharing websites, such as the popular www.thepiratebay.org, and choose the file they want to download. The website allows students to download these files through torrents by searching for the file on other computers and taking tiny pieces of it, which are then transferred to the student’s computer and pasted together.
Though many uses for torrents are illegal, STS director Barbara Braun assures students that the University is not blocking any specific traffic on the network, nor are they regulating any student activity, something she believes students have misunderstood.
“I had a young man in here the other day asking what STS was ‘sniffing the network for,’” Braun said. “This is not something that occurs internally.”
Braun explained that the regulating is actually done by the industries that own these copyrighted materials that people frequently share over the Internet. The industries hire people to regulate Internet users and trace illegal file sharing back to the source. When illegal activity is traced back to Washington University, the school is legally required to take action against the offender.
Punishments for copyright infringement at the school range from having network access revoked to being referred to University Judicial Authorities, and even in some cases suspension or expulsion.
At the civil or criminal level, copyright infringement can result in up to a $30,000 fine and, for willful copyright infringement, up to five years in prison.
Despite the warnings, many students don’t seem to be worried about getting caught.
“I download music illegally through torrents,” said a male freshman in Arts & Sciences who chose to remain anonymous. “Obviously it’s something that a large number of students on campus do, and their attempt to keep us from doing it is pretty much unsuccessful. I have decreased my downloading, but I haven’t stopped it.”
Other students were similarly unafraid of punishment.
“I’m not afraid of getting caught because I don’t see how they could track me down, and I don’t do it often enough for them to catch me,” a freshman business student said.
Braun said that despite protests from students, the University has no choice but to crack down on this illegal activity when it is reported to them, and she stressed that STS doesn’t relish doing so.
“People think the University is playing the part of Big Brother, and we’re not. We don’t want anyone bringing legal action against you or against the University. We want to protect you,” she said.
To find out more about copyright infringement, students can visit the STS website at sts.wustl.edu.