BGSU gets proactive against illegal file sharing

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Students and others at Bowling Green State University now have to face the music if they have obtained it illegally using peer-to-peer (P2P) software.

As part of a proactive approach to P2P and digital copyright issues, BGSU has implemented a new technology called CopySense, by Audible Magic Corp. It allows legal use of P2P software such as BitTorrent, Gnutella and LimeWire, but when it finds a computer is using the software to obtain copyrighted material in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), consequences are immediate.

The user’s Web browser is redirected to a page informing him that his Internet access will be blocked for a period of time. Residence hall computers are without Web access for 24 hours for the first offense. For a second offense, the time frame is two weeks, as well as 30 days without P2P capability. The block for a third offense will continue until the student meets with the Division of Student Affairs, which must then permit Information Technology Services to clear the block. Access to University network services such as email, MyFiles and MyBGSU are maintained during any block.

For users in administrative buildings, the blocks are for 15 minutes, one hour and two hours, respectively. Instances of illegal file sharing on the administrative network are “significantly less” than in residence halls, said Matthew Haschak, BGSU’s director of information technology security and networking.

Implementation of CopySense is one of the means being used to raise BGSU awareness of the issues surrounding the DMCA. The layered approach, called Digital Copyright Safeguards, also includes education and awareness and legal alternative layers. Providing impetus to add the technical layer was the number of cease and desist letters—658 during 2007-08—from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which also has sent pre-litigation settlement letters to BGSU students threatening a lawsuit unless they settle for at least $3,000.

Those numbers told University officials the extent of the problem, leading to the addition of the enforcement safeguard, Haschak said. “The purpose is to protect the student,” he pointed out, saying that from BGSU’s standpoint, having students without Internet access for a time is preferable to having students sued, especially if legal action would impact their ability to stay in school.

“We’re not shutting down file sharing,” he added, noting the academic uses of P2P. “We’re shutting down illegal file sharing.”

The University is also attempting to increase awareness through information on the Web site, which is part of its Information Security site Presentations of “I Swear I’m Not Sharing Music,” a session in the First Year Success Series, have been part of the education effort as well.

Among the information on the BGSU Web pages are alternatives for obtaining music and other media legally. One of them is Ruckus, a Web site where free music downloads are available to college students. The music can only be played on a Windows computer; users must pay to put it on an MP3 player or a CD. Haschak said more than 1,500 BGSU users have already made over half a million downloads from Ruckus.

The number of cease and desist letters from the RIAA left Bowling Green 55th on a list of U.S. universities that received notices from the association last year. BGSU was second in the state to Ohio State University. Ohio University was first on the national list in 2006-07 but, after installing CopySense, placed 232nd last year. Each university receiving the letters is responsible for identifying accused students.

“The majority of the students have been very understanding” in the couple weeks since CopySense was put in place at BGSU, Haschak said. “We’re making them more aware.”

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(Posted October 24, 2008 )

Updated: 12/02/2017 01:13AM