Illegal downloading rises among students

Daniel Bott

Despite warnings from the university, the number of Kent State students who engage in illegal downloading continues to rise.

Kent State has been routinely receiving copyright infringement notices from the Recording Industry Association of America, Motion Picture Association of America and Business Software Alliance.

Scott Weitzenhoffer, lead IT user support analyst, said the university received 119 notices last year and there have been close to 200 so far this semester.

A warning to students about the ramifications of illegal downloading was e-mailed to students earlier in the semester and another warning was sent last week.

Weitzenhoffer said he attributed part of the increase to new students coming into Kent State, with knowledge about how to illegally download items that students two years ago didn’t have.

He also said many students were unaware what they were doing was illegal.

“I have some students who think, ‘Well, if I download, I can keep it for 24 hours, and as long as I delete it after 24 hours it’s legal,” he said. “It’s not.”

Weitzenhoffer said he and a graduate student from instructional technology are aiming to develop educational materials to educate incoming freshmen and existing students on the issues around downloading. Part of these materials would outline what is and isn’t illegal.

Another goal of the university is to speed up the process of student notification when they have made a copyright infringement.

When a student is caught illegally downloading, the university takes the notification from the copyright holder’s agent, Weitzenhoffer said. Then, following accepted legal practices, the university blocks network activity for the offending computer and sends a message to the user detailing the infringement complaint.

The university then requests the user remove illegally owned infringing content and disable the sharing of copyrighted materials.

At present, this process can take between one to four weeks.

“If we can improve our process from point A to point B, then hopefully we can reduce the number of instances, as well as the headaches that are associated with the result of illegal downloading,” Weitzenhoffer said.

He said the university had been receptive to proposed changes.

“The problem is the university is a big machine and to get a big machine to change procedures, let alone policy, takes time,” he said.

Copyright is largely a federal issue, so complaints are usually filed in federal court. Carol Crimi, senior staff attorney in Kent State’s student legal services department, in a previous article, said because it was a federal issue, student legal services could offer only limited assistance.

Weitzenhoffer said he was unaware whether any student has suffered legal consequences from illegal downloading this semester, but students have been sued before.

“In the spring of 2005 a record company did sue a client in federal court, and I think they reached a settlement ultimately,” Crimi said. “It was a very serious situation for that student.”

Contact technology reporter Daniel Bott at [email protected].