News Writing Sample – Digital Pirates Walk Plank: RIAA corners file sharing students

(Originally published in The Rider News newspaper on November 19, 2004)

LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. – The actions against Internet music sharing have struck Rider University as students on both the Lawrenceville and Westminster campuses have been targeted by the industry.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has notified the Office of Information Technologies (OIT) of five students, three within the last month, who have violated copyright law by using the Rider network to upload illegally pirated songs to others, said Associate Vice-President for Student Affairs Anthony Campbell.

“Nobody has access to our network outside of Rider, but the RIAA has embedded different things into their songs that allow them to monitor where they go,” he said. “If it’s their copyrighted material, they can track the IP address of where it goes and see that the IP address is owned by Rider University. From there, the University is required to disable their music downloading capabilities and send a letter informing the student of what has happened.”

When students’ downloading capabilities are shut down, the rest of their Internet access remains intact, according to OIT Networks/Communications Director Timothy Fairlie.

“We have network management tools that can, in most cases, identify the types of traffic on the network and where they are coming from and going to,” he said. “These tools can usually block those specific types of traffic without shutting the user’s connection down completely.”

While no legal action is taken at this point in the process, if a student is caught repeatedly breaking the policy, the person is identified and the owner of the copyrighted material is then entitled to seek monetary compensation that can exceed $150,000.

Currently, according to Campbell, none of the five Rider students have had such further action taken against them.
At this point, the letters target only those who upload, either actively or passively, allowing others to download from their shared music folder, Fairlie said. Therefore, those looking to avoid attracting the attention of the RIAA are advised to disable access to their shared folders.

“While downloading songs that you have not paid for is as illegal as stealing a CD off a store shelf, the RIAA letters refer to songs that are shared,” Fairlie said. “They do not, or at least have not yet, sent us any letters about students downloading music.”

However, while downloading may not currently exist as a legal issue for students, it is creating other problems, said Campbell.

“We tested the network for one hour, two weeks ago, from noon to 1 p.m. and there were about 117,000 songs downloaded in that time,” he said. “That’s a problem because people can’t get to the Internet to do their academic work. We can go to the extreme of shutting it all down or not doing anything at all, but we’re trying to find some middle ground.”

Three student organizations—the Rider President’s Council, the Senate and the Residence Hall Association—have been tapped for suggestions, according to Junior-Class Treasurer Melissa Tresselt, who said the Senate is in support of a ban on peer-to-peer sharing.

“Our network has been way too slow lately to a point where it takes me about an hour to download anything with streaming video in it,” she said. “If the music traffic on the network came to an end, it would fly.”

Many students are still in support of peer-to-peer sharing, like sophomore Adam Moltisanti, who said that so long as prices for albums remain as high as they are, people will continue to download illegally.

“Some of these CD prices are getting so outrageous that it doesn’t pay to buy them,” he said. “The price to manufacture a CD is so insignificant to what they’re charging for them that the only albums I would buy are ones from ‘indie’ groups because they’re making so little anyway.”

Dr. Jonathan Millen, a Communications professor who teaches the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll class, said that if part of the problem is that fans refuse to buy albums, perhaps a re-conceptualization of the industry itself is necessary.

“They should give the music away for free and stop making commercially produced CDs,” he said. “Groups have done this with tremendous success going back to the Grateful Dead and recently Prince where you pay for the performance and the merchandise. They need to go in another direction because the action they’re taking is not having any impact. I always ask my classes who’s still downloading and all the hands go up.”

In the meantime, Campbell suggests that the problem with bandwidth Rider is currently facing could be solved by designating times where the network could be opened specifically for the use of legal peer-to-peer sharing.

“We have a way of prioritizing so that academic things prioritize over non-academic things, which we’ve been doing for years,” he said. “What we’re looking at now is maybe creating times where there would be extended access to downloads. Maybe there are times when students are not typically doing their homework that the server could be used for more recreational purposes.”

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