Free downloads can come with a cost

Denise Wright

For incoming students, college presents more choices – some students choose to skip class, some choose to get “home” at 3 a.m. and some even choose to download illegally.

But Kim Price, Information Technology security engineer, said downloading copyrighted materials illegally should be the one choice students decide against.

Students may not realize how much easier it is to get caught downloading on campus as opposed to downloading from somewhere else. Price said representatives from groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America, Motion Picture Association of America and Business Software Alliance tend to be more focused on violations that take place on college campuses, where there is a highly concentrated population of offenders.

“Before (college), students were just a fish in the ocean,” Price said. “Now, they’re a fish in a stocked pond.”

Kent State alumnus Michael Vaughn was caught downloading on campus twice. Vaughn said he learned the repercussions of downloading on campus and changed his downloading habits after being caught.

“It didn’t stop me from downloading,” Vaughn said. “But it did stop me from downloading on campus.”

With increasing technology from the RIAA, Price said representatives of copyright holders are now detecting three to four times more illegal downloads than they have in recent years.

Price said the RIAA is very aggressive.

“They have ramped up their technology, and they’re not afraid to use it,” she said.

Over the course of the Spring 2007 semester, more than 260 copyright notices were sent out to Kent State students. In February of that year, the university was ranked No. 17 on the RIAA’s worst college offenders list.

“It was an eye opener,” Price said.

Price said she thinks many students who are caught are genuinely uninformed about downloading or have some misconceptions about it.

She noted many student violators who come in seem surprised by some of the information she shares with them. She said some leave her office rather upset.

Yet she said she and other members from the security office only seek to educate students as much as possible. With that in mind, the security department went on an educational campaign last year.

The Fall 2007 semester brought several educational handouts and posters. The university also put Ruckus into place over Summer 2007 so students could download it when they returned in the fall.

Ruckus is a program that boasts over 2.5 million songs to be downloaded legally. The only catch is that files are only accessible through a computer.

Price said students may purchase a subscription plan that enables them to copy files to an outside source. iPods, however, are not compatible with Ruckus.

All the same, Price said she has seen violations drop since the implementation of Ruckus. The Spring 2008 semester warranted about 100 fewer infringements than the 260 from Spring 2007.

“Ruckus doesn’t have everything, but it has a lot,” Price said. “Regardless, it’s been pretty seamless and it has helped.”

Price said she believes the success of Ruckus has come from university staff members helping with promoting the program.

She said she is in the process of working with organizations such as Residence Services to make information available to incoming freshmen, especially during the Week of Welcome. She said she believes the university community now clearly sees the importance of the issue.

“They see that there’s a need, and that’s why the issue is getting better,” she said.

Thinking about violating the university’s downloading policy? Here’s what you have to look forward to, according to Kim Price, IT security engineer:

Representatives from the RIAA and other such groups e-mail “take-down notices” to the security department. “Take-down notices” are notices that list a student’s infringing material, the date and time of the infringement and the IP address of the computer on which it occurred. At this point, the association does not actually know the identity of the infringer. Upon receiving the notice, it is up to the security office to determine the perpetrator by using the information provided.

&bull Price then sends out a notice to the students, listing their violations along with the original infringement e-mail. She informs them their Internet access will be shut off immediately (with the exception of using campus resources such as Vista).

&bull At this point, the students need to delete the infringing material and educate themselves about downloading. They are required to watch two videos and read material before scheduling an appointment with the security office to sign a verification form.

&bull Students can gain their network access back the same day it was shut off – as long as they meet their requirements that day.

&bull If students receive a second violation, they are expected to come in for another information session. They go through the same five steps as the first infringement. This time, however, the student is required to take and pass a quiz.

“This allows me to know that they actually read and understand everything,” Price said.

&bull Even after following all the required actions, students aren’t exactly in the clear with the RIAA, MPAA or other groups. Last year, the RIAA began targeting colleges directly by sending out pre-settlement lawsuit letters to randomly selected students at chosen universities. Thus, if students have more infringements, they have greater odds of being selected.

“It’s like that ticket you don’t want to win,” Price said.

&bull If students receive a settlement notice, they have 20 days to pay a $3,000 out-of-court settlement fee, or they can choose to go to court.

&bull If the student does not pay the pre-settlement fee, the representative can subpoena the university for the perpetrator’s name, which the association still does not know. Once the subpoena comes to the university, the Office of Security and Access Management is required to turn over the name.

&bull The RIAA will then contact the person directly and offer a second chance to settle outside of court. The second offer typically runs between $4,000 and $5,000.

&bull If the student chooses not to settle, the RIAA can file a suit in civil or federal court. Students may seek assistance from Student Legal Services at any point. Although Student Legal Services cannot represent the student in federal court, it can help in other ways, including recommending other attorneys.

Contact general assignment reporter Denise Wright at [email protected].