Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

43° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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NU pressured to crack down on file sharing on computers

Leaders in the entertainment industry frustrated by illegal file sharing and downloading on college campuses are seeking allies among university administrators to curb the problem.

In letters exchanged in mid-October, presidents of organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America and the Association of American Universities urged college and university presidents to investigate file sharing practices through university computer resources.

The letters prompted Northwestern’s legal counsel to examine risks associated with student downloading and could result in new policies.

“The educational purpose for which these networks were built is demeaned by such illegal behavior and is inconsistent with the ethical principles underlying the university community,” the entertainment industry’s letter said.

The letters warn that universities failing to take steps against illegal downloading of materials such as music and movies could be liable for copyright violations, since their networks are being used for the illegal activities. They recommend that universities examine peer-to-peer, or P2P, file sharing, because programs such as KaZaA drain computer resources.

Although the entertainment industry has taken steps to develop laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, surveys indicate the situation is not improving. Colleges are hotbeds of illegal file sharing, so contacting universities is a way to attack the problem from a new angle.

“This is an effort to reach out to an audience (the entertainment industry) hasn’t reached out to in the past,” said Victoria Churchville, an AAU spokeswoman.

NU officials are familiar with the problems of some P2P activity. NU Information Technology gets four to six complaints every day about copyright violations and has had problems with network resources being usurped, said Tom Board, director of technology support services.

Board said there were times when P2P programs were using 100 percent of the university’s bandwidth, or Internet capacity. To keep network resources open, IT instituted a bandwidth management program last year. The program monitors files being transferred and limits traffic of each type.

“This is our way of protecting our connection to the Internet from being swamped by any particular application,” Board said.

When IT receives notice of copyright violation, it has to track down the offending computer user and ask them to remove illegal files and software for acquiring such files. Some students have had their Internet ports shut off for a couple of days as punishment.

“If it’s blatant and repetitive misuse, we refer the student to (the Office of) Student Affairs, but 99 percent of the time the person is willing to clean up right away,” Board said.

These programs and policies are steps toward restricting and punishing student downloading. But they do not educate students about the implications of illegal online activities, something the letters also outlined as essential for stopping copyright violations.

Board said IT has established codes of conduct for Internet usage, including a blanket warning about respecting copyright laws. After university legal council reviews the letters and legal issues, more specific policies regarding digital media could be created.

Students said it will take more than guidelines and monitoring software to keep them from downloading their favorite songs and movies.

“I think people will continue (to download entertainment) until it’s not free anymore,” said Jenny Freedman, a Weinberg senior. “Students don’t care — it’s the least of their worries.”

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NU pressured to crack down on file sharing on computers