Excessive illegal file sharing has students, legislation out of tune

by Andie Diemer
Sept. 24, 2008

A panicky wave washed over campus last week when word leaked that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) had been investigating file sharing at Elon. While the rumors ranged from company officials physically showing up on campus to being able to backtrack downloaded songs from years ago, Chris Fulkerson, assistant vice president for technology, knew one thing was true: Illegal downloading has to stop.

While Fulkerson is normally notified of these types of infractions on a regular basis, the first two weeks of September marked a period of excess use that merited a severe wake-up call. Fifteen reports of downloading specific songs, which were chosen by the RIAA to trace, were reported by the RIAA to Elon during a three-day period.

“I let out that we had 15 notices and so people are getting nervous,” Fulkerson said.

He said the RIAA has never stepped onto campus, nor do they need to. Instead, they simply use the internet to jump on music-sharing sites, such as Limewire, and pick targeted songs to track.

Fulkerson said the first round of high hits may not be aimed as much at students as it was at the administration as a warning to curb the problem before more serious steps are taken.

The school used to keep logs of complaints for three days, but when the Higher Education Reauthorization Act was passed in August the school became required to keep logs for about two weeks.

“We must comply,” he said. “They don’t take that well [when we tell them no]. That is part of why the new act went into effect — a lot of schools have been doing that.”

The RIAA searched these specific songs on Elon's campus. Fulkerson said they don't always search for current, popular songs.
The RIAA searched for these specific songs on Elon’s campus. Fulkerson said they don’t always seek the most current or popular songs.

Fulkerson said it means several hours of work for him. After the RIAA reports specific IP addresses from computers that are illegally file sharing, Fulkerson’s networking people have to go through all the logs and match them up.

“We trace it back to the dorm, to the port, to the wireless connection,” he said. “We try to find out who it is or the general area of where it came from.”

If the RIAA sends a notice they usually ask for names to be turned over, Fulkerson said.
“Our policy has been if we get asked we’ll turn them over,” he said. “We’ve been asked and we’ve said we couldn’t identify the person.”

While no students have been turned over to the RIAA yet, Fulkerson said tracking the exact IP address to a specific student could definitely happen. In that case, they would also be handed off to Judicial Affairs.

“We aren’t required by law to turn the names over, but we do cooperate with the RIAA,” he said.

Fulkerson said he is going to send an e-mail to a specific building in Danieley Center to notify them of activity that has been located in their area.

“I’m not going to go any further,” he said. “[I’m going to say] it was traced to your building. Stop it.”

The new requirement of logging in with an Elon username and password on all campus computers or wireless plays a partial role in downloading illegal items, since now all guests and users have to register before accessing the Internet.

“By keeping guests off our network, we know it is,” Fulkerson said. “Even the guests who come on our network have to log in.”

If caught, it’s $150,000 per infraction, no matter how many songs they find on your computer.

“What they do is they go for the maximum and then settle. That’s the way they have been doing it,” Fulkerson said. “And they’re quite up front with everybody saying were going to make an example out of these students, they’re the ones that got caught.”

Fulkerson said students are taking a chance by breaking the law.

“The recording industry is becoming more aggressive at prosecuting and they’re getting better at finding people and they’re getting the government on their side by being very sympathetic about their industry. It’s the law.”

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