Monday, April 23, 2007

Marquette Struggles With Illegal Student File Sharing

Illegal student “file sharing,” in which students either download copyrighted audio and video material or allow others to download such material from their own computers, has bedeviled Marquette, just as it has bedeviled pretty much every other college and university.

Indeed, it has created Internet access problems at Marquette in spite of what is now (by historical standards) a lot of bandwidth connecting the campus with the worldwide network.

Indeed, in one case a single student was found to be tying up 14% of the entire Internet bandwidth of the University.

So what is Marquette doing about this?

We interviewed both Kathy Lang, Director of Information Technology Services and Mike Wiedower, head network security guru at ITS, and here is the picture.

Marquette is dependent on complaints from the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America to initiate action.

Basically, those two organizations identify the network addresses (“IP addresses”) of users who have volunteered to let people download pirated files from their computers. When the address traces back to Marquette, they complain to ITS about the activity.

Assuming that Marquette can identify the connection of the computer offering illegal sharing (not always possible) all users at that connection (say, two roomates in a dorm room) are mailed “cease and desist” letters which they must sign, promising not to continue illegal file sharing. If they fail to respond within three days, they are disconnected from the Internet.

This is not exactly draconian, and indeed is probably about the least Marquette can do to avoid getting itself sued by the RIAA or MPAA. Nothing, of course, stops the RIAA or MPAA from suing the individual students.

Students can get into worse trouble, and in a handful of cases have gotten dragged before the Student Conduct Review Board.

To meet this fate a student has to be really brazen.

Marquette, like virtually all colleges and universities has an Acceptable Use Policy. Some students have run afoul of this by using certain tricks to defeat University attempts to “shape” use of bandwidth.

Such “shaping” involves ITS routers identifying certain kinds of traffic (downloading of audio and video files, for example) and giving it less bandwidth than other uses (say, accessing research resources from the library).

Such shaping, of course, can be evaded with the right sort of software. But only at the risk of being found out by ITS and getting in real hot water.

The good news is that, compared to other universities, Marquette seems to get little attention from the RIAA and the MPAA. While the University of Wisconsin-Madison is near the top of the list of schools where students pirate copyrighted materials, Marquette is far down in the pack.

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