Illegal downloading increasing on campus

Daniel Bott

The number of Kent State students caught illegally downloading is on the rise.

Earlier this month, Kent State received a large number of 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 analysist, said the number of notices they are receiving has increased dramatically.

“We’ve seen in this opening month as much as half of what we saw all of last year,” Weitzenhoffer said.

Kent State received about 115 notices last year; some universities get as many 1,000 a month. Although Kent State isn’t near 1,000 a month, Weitzenhoffer said he considers 115 a large number and was concerned with the increase.

The liability of universities regarding copyright infringements is covered under Title II of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

“As long as the university acts in good faith, the university is protected under the DMCA Title II as a ‘safe harbor,'” Weitzenhoffer said. “We become an Internet service provider, and as long as we act in good faith and follow the law, we maintain that status.”

Kent State doesn’t act as a policing agent in the process. Weitzenhoffer said his department receives a notification from an external source that illegal downloading is taking place and responds to that.

Weitzenhoffer said the university takes the notification from the copyright holder’s agent, and, following accepted legal practices, 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.

Kent State receives more notices for music than for software, movies and TV shows.

“The illegal activity is two-way traffic,” Weitzenhoffer said. “It is either downloading music or having legally owned music on their computer and sharing it to someone else.”

He said when students are notified of the complaint they have the option to file a counter notification saying they are not involved in anything illegal but said this could cause problems.

Kent State’s steps of the process keep students relatively anonymous but by filing this counter notification they expose themselves. Weitzenhoffer said it becomes an issue between the student and the copyright holder and “then they really come under the gun.”

Copyright is largely a federal issue and as such complaints are usually filed in federal court. Carol Crimi, senior staff attorney in Kent State’s student legal services department, said the bad news for Kent State students is that this means student legal services can offer only limited assistance.

“Unfortunately our services are generally confined to representing in Portage County,” Crimi said. “But we would try to link them (students) up with an attorney who does practice in federal court.”

Both Weitzenhoffer and Crimi were aware of Kent State students being sued for these crimes.

“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.”

This particular case showed the record companies are not just going after those who download large amounts.

“It didn’t appear to me, when reading the documentation, to be someone committing major infractions” Crimi said.

Chris Kallio, sophomore history and theater major, said he did not do any illegal downloading personally but was aware of a “handful” that do.

“These people are very good at hiding and not getting caught. I’ve never known anyone that has got caught for illegally downloading anything,” Kallio said.

“People are real vague about it as you would guess,” he said. “It’s bootlegging all over again. Just like in the ’20s.”

Kallio doesn’t believe there will be a decrease in illegal downloading anytime soon. “People like free stuff,” he said.

Contact technology and information services reporter Daniel Bott at [email protected]