NUIT blocks Net access from students downloading MP3s

Annette Majerowicz

When Medill freshman Erin Gulden’s Internet access was disconnected two weeks ago, she never guessed that it was done intentionally by Northwestern Information Technology.

Gulden, who had on her computer five MP3s that she had downloaded from sites such as Audiogalaxy and Aimster, said she was told Oct. 12 by Information Security Coordinator Roger Safian that her Internet access had been shut off because she was suspected of violating copyright laws.

“It’s one of those things and everyone does it,” she said. “(I had) no clue it was that serious.”

Tom Board, director of technology support services, declined to comment on specific cases such as Gulden’s but said hundreds of NU students in the past two years have had their Internet disconnected for suspected copyright infringements.

But not every student who downloads copyrighted material such as music or movies has their Internet connection shut down. Board said NU does a reasonable amount of verification that the identified terminal belongs to the NU network and then turns off a user’s Internet access as required by a 1998 law that made Internet service providers such as NU responsible for their users.

IT does not notify students when their Internet connection will be severed because administrators are given only the students’ port numbers, not their names, Board said. Students eventually realize that it has been done intentionally and are counseled on the situation by IT, he said.

Most students are surprised when they learn what happened “and would like to make sure that they don’t get into that situation again,” Board said.

Organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America and agencies representing individuals with copyrighted material monitor networks for violations of intellectual property, Board said. These organization then send lists of possible violators to the ISP, in this case NU.

The university has been more stringent about investigating possible copyright infringements since Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998.

Under the act, individuals who violate copyright laws could face up to 10 years in jail and millions of dollars in fines, Board said. If the ISP doesn’t prevent further illegal downloads, the ISP itself could be found liable of contributory infringement and subject to the same penalties as the individual users, Board said.

He added that, to his knowledge, no one who has lost their Internet access has been prosecuted.

Some students may not know they are violating the DMCA, Board said. When a student joins a music-sharing group, they download software that not only allows them to obtain music but also supplies their music to others.

Board said that complaints are lodged “fairly regularly” against students and estimates that in the past two years there have been about a dozen complaints per month.

Those who have their Internet connections shut off, including Gulden, must write a letter to NU promising never to make illegal downloads in the future.

Gulden said she was warned that if she downloaded more songs, she could be turned over to University Police. Board said students also must eliminate downloading software such as Audiogalaxy in order for their Internet access to be reinstated.

Gulden’s Internet access was restored Wednesday after writing the required e-mail to administrators saying she would never download MP3s.

“I don’t think I’m going to risk it,” she said.