Illegal downloading can cost more in the end

William Schertz

It’s been a little more than one month since the beginning of fall semester, and in that time illegal downloading has once again become a problem for the university.

“It’s a big headache for me,” said Greg Seibert, director of Security and Compliance. “I get about one to four complaints a day from the different entities (record companies).”

Since classes started at the end of August, the university has sent out nearly 30 cease and desist notices to students on campus, and that number is only getting bigger.

Seibert said last year the university had sent out nearly 200 notices to students. The year before there were about 100, and the year before that there were 50.

“It’s something that just seems to double every year,” Seibert said. “Maybe it will be up to 400 this year, then 800 next year – who knows?”

The biggest factor in downloading music illegally tends to be its cost or its lack thereof.

Jaywalking on the information highway

“It’s free as long as you don’t get caught,” said sports management major Josh Carter. “My friends are paying 15, 20 bucks for a CD that I’m getting for free. It might take me a little longer to get all the songs, but it’s worth it in my mind.”

Carter, who said he has been downloading illegally for eight years and has yet to get caught, is aware of the risks that come with downloading illegally.

“It’s like jaywalking,” he said. “You do it at your own risk. If you get hit by a car, that’s your problem.”

Part of the problem is that students do not consider illegal downloading to be a huge crime; Seibert said most students appear to equate it more with borrowing than stealing.

But the consequences are very costly, and recording companies are taking a stricter approach as they lose more and more money each year.

Piracy lawsuits are more common in the United States than ever before, as record companies try to keep their tight grip on the music industry.

According to Seibert, piracy cases are usually settled before they go to trial, but typically illegal downloaders will end up paying $2,000 to $20,000.

“They (record companies) got to make it easier, they got to make it cheaper and they got to make it more attractive to students,” Seibert said.

Many online programs are currently offering songs for as little as 79 cents per song, while there are several more that let people download an unlimited number of songs for a certain fee every month. Even with these offers, it’s still more than what a lot of students are willing to pay.

Samantha Howorka, junior nursing major, has recently cut illegal downloading from her diet of online activities.

This decision did not stem from a change of heart or fear of getting caught by record companies, but rather from getting caught by a program already at work on her computer.

Cisco Clean Access, a new program the university requires students to install on their computers, is relatively unknown in terms of what it does.

“I didn’t know whether or not I could download without getting caught,” Howorka said.

Howorka used to download with Ares, but she since removed it after installing Cisco Clean Access.

She is not the only student who fears the new program is keeping tabs on students’ Internet activity, but Seibert assures students that this is not what the program does.

Cisco Clean Access’ main purpose is to require students to keep their computers up to date to prevent them from bringing viruses onto the university network, he said. It also watches for certain workstation signatures that resemble viruses, but it does not prohibit the use of programs.

“If your machine falls into a state where you’re a detriment to everyone else, we’re going to have to do something about it,” Seibert said. “If you’re keeping your machine in a good state, we don’t care what you do.”

Positive side of peer-to-peer

Peer-to-peer technology has been in the foreground of illegal downloading for some time now, with companies like eDonkey and BitTorrent gaining popularity.

While these peer-to-peer programs are predominantly used for illegal purposes, there are also several legal means that are under development.

One of these programs, LionShare, is a new form of file sharing that is being tested at Penn State University.

The program can mostly be used to search for and view course materials, but in the future it will allow for sharing notes and other classroom information between faculty members and students.

“I’ve watched the development of LionShare since it was first discussed,” Seibert said. “If it’s successful, we might chose to develop something like that here.”

Contact technology reporter William Schertz at [email protected].