College Policy Targets Illegal Downloads

Every year, millions of songs are illegally downloaded from peer to peer file-sharing sites.

With statistics like that, it is understandable why Manhattan College sends out the yearly notice to the student body about the potential ramifications of illegally downloading files over the college’s networks.

“We are required by law to give you guys [students] that notice,” Dean of Students Michael Carey said.

Students recently received an email from Carey on this very subject. In the email from Carey, the resulting punishments for using peer to peer sharing sites and illegally downloading and sharing files on college networks were detailed. The email read that a student can be liable for anywhere from $750 to $30,000 for each copyrighted act. However, the price of each charge of willful infringement changes to a range of $750 to $150,000.

Included in the email were also examples of previous court cases that involved individuals illegally downloading and sharing files. One court case that was cited in the email was one from June 2013 where a college student used programs such as Napster and LimeWire to share 30 songs. This example was used to illustrate the point that there is a monetary charge often associated with the charge of illegally downloading and sharing files.

More often than not, the violations received by the school are related to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This act outlines in great detail possible punishments for copyright violations, what is considered infringement and much more in terms of copyright holdings.

As explained by Associate Provost Walter Matystik, when a copyright holder detects a copyright infringement on the Manhattan College network, the copyright holder notifies the college that this infringement has been detected. From that point, the college administration works with Information Technology Services (ITS) to pinpoint the user at fault.

This is done with the information that the copyright holder contacts the college with. The copyright holder contacts the college typically detects an IP address, which is an address that is specific to one computer at any one time. What complicates the situation is that different computers can have the same IP address at different times. A student using a computer could have an IP address at 11:30 in the morning on Tuesday, while a completely different student could have the same IP address at 11:30 the next day.

Once the college has the time and the IP address, it can cross-reference that information with the MAC address for the associated computer or device. The MAC address is a signature that is unique to each computer and identifies the machine. Once the college confirms that this MAC address corresponds with the IP address at the specific time of the infringement, the college can take action against those involved.

To determine if an application or file actually contains illegal files, the college uses software known as Tipping Point. This software does more to check that the traffic on the school network is actually illegal and not just legally gotten files from a peer to peer website. Peer to peer websites are the websites more commonly know as torrenting sites. These sites are the locations where one user posts files and others can download them and further share them.

Rather than make the first encounter between the student and the administration a negative one when dealing with copyright infringement, the administration wants to make it a conversation.

“We make it a teaching moment,” Carey said.

“We ask them whether they may have posted something that’s not theirs where they infringe on copyright or if they download some games or something perhaps accidentally, we ask them to please remove them off their hard drive,” Carey said.

For some students, it can be hard to define what exactly is copyrighted and what is not.

“Even the notes you take in class as a student,” Matystik said. “You have a copyright to those.”

One thing that must be made clear when discussing a topic such as this one is the time for which the school holds the records that allow them to track MAC to IP address. Since this information can be used to track the digital location of students at anytime, this can be a problem.

“We hold these records as long as the law requires,” Director of Information Technology Services Jake Holmquist said.

This should alleviate the concern of students who think that information about their digital footprint is being held in a manner that can be used against them longer than the law requires.

“We try to stop the bad stuff without prohibiting the student,” Holmquist said.

Other institutions on the level of Manhattan College require students to log in every time they join the school network or one of the schools utilities. This is what the college is trying to avoid.

“We are doing all the behind the scenes work, without the strain to the students,” Holmquist said.