Illegal downloading on the rise

By Mike Devine

In spite of the growing popularity of legal, for-cost music downloading programs like iTunes, illegal file-sharing methods are still common among Northeastern students, university officials said last week.

There has been a surge of more than 100 complaints filed in September against Northeastern students by groups like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said Bob Weir, vice president for information services.

From September 2005 through August 2006, the highest number of complaints filed against Northeastern students in a single month was 38, Weir said.

Northeastern must validate every complaint it receives by checking the university’s database to make sure the information in the complaint is legitimate, said Glenn Hill, director of Information Security and Identity Services.

If the student is found to breach the law, the university sends an e-mail to the alleged file-sharer alerting them they have been flagged. In most cases, students will respond to this warning and make sure they comply with Northeastern’s guidelines, Hill said.

If a student does not comply with the warning, Information Services issues another warning, with more emphasis on the severity of the activity. After a third complaint, students are reported to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR).

Weir said the complaints are usually filed in spurts, and it is hard to tell whether the prevalence of file-sharing has increased or if outside entities like the RIAA have become more aggressive in cracking down.

Although his department is responsible for notifying students when a complaint has been filed, Hill made it clear that the university does not actively search for offenders.

“We are not the copyright police, but it is our duty to inform students when we receive complaints against them,” Hill said.

With regard to file-sharing, Weir said the university’s goal is to make sure students fully understand the law and what they can be held accountable for.

“We run a responsibility campaign in which we educate students of the expectations they are to live up to through the use of the guidelines in the Appropriate Use Policy (AUP), and to make sure they know they are responsible for their actions, not the university,” Weir said.

The laws surrounding illegal file-sharing are spelled out in the AUP, Hill said, but most students are unfamiliar with the process for students who had complaints filed against them.

“It is rare that we have to contact OSCCR so that they can deal with file-sharing cases,” Hill said.

However, OSCCR is not the only problem students who share files may have to face.

A recent study by the Business Software Alliance shows that file-sharing causes some students to risk losing their jobs or having their applications rejected.

Nearly 90 percent of supervisors surveyed said a candidate’s attitutude toward file-sharing was a factor when hiring.

Despite the policies Northeastern has in place to combat illegal downloading, some students do not feel the activity is a major problem for the university.

“Many people I know use iTunes now, so I don’t think illegal downloading is as big of a problem anymore,” said freshman business major Cecil Fiene.

Freshman business major Shawna Toohey said there are alternative ways to get around restrictions on music, like listening to selections on iTunes from other computers connected to the university’s server.

When enabled, this feature allows users on the same network to listen to others’ music libraries for free, though they cannot transfer these songs to a computer or an iPod.

Weir said students have been responsive when consulted about potential file-sharing violations.

“In my eight years here at Northeastern, I have always appreciated the fact that most students are quick to respond and act on our warnings,” Weir said. “We have very few repeat discussions with students.”

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