Copyright infringement notices on the rise

Derek Thurber

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In a world where the Internet can be accessed in your palm, computers are expected to be in every dorm room and software coding is taught to more people at a younger age, the use of file sharing websites and the downloading of copyrighted material has become more common among college students at Whitman College and elsewhere.

Although it may be increasingly common to participate in illegal file sharing, copyright holders also increasingly look for the activity. Students at Whitman have become increasingly aware of the risks and consequences of such actions this semester.

Between the fall of 2005 and the spring of 2010, a total of 51 copyright infringement notices were sent to students regarding these types of file sharing websites. Seven notices have already been sent in the fall of 2010, marking a significant increase in the overall quantity of notices received on a regular basis according to IT Security Officer Mike Osterman.

“Nobody really know why there has been an increase,” he said. “Either the film industry is finally paying attention to Whitman or the student population is doing it more.”

“It’s not just Whitman,” added Kevin Kelly, the director of technology infrastructure at Whitman. “Everyone has been seeing an increase in copyright notices across the board. It’s way above normal.”

The college itself does not seek out these copyright infringements. As a part of the Acceptable Use Policy, which all students agree to when they first register their computer on the Whitman network, Whitman agrees not to monitor any content that comes across the Internet.

“We’re not looking for copyright infringement and currently not interested in finding it either, so we don’t put anything in the way in regards to the Internet,” said Kelly. “We just respond when notices from copyright holders come in.”

It is up to the copyright holder, like a movie company, to pursue infringements against their copyrighted material. Whitman College Technology Services (WCTS) is only legally responsible under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to which the college is subjected, to notify students to cease and desist when a copyright infringement notice is sent to them.

According to Osterman, the college has 72 hours to notify the student once a copyright infringement notice has been issued to the college.

If the student or other person engaging in the illegal act does not stop it is up to the copyright holder to pursue further action; this could result a lawsuit according to Kelly.

Once a student receives his or her third notice, Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland is notified, and it is up to him to pursue further disciplinary action from the college.

“Whether or not the college wants to pursue disciplinary action against the person is really dependent on the circumstances and whether or not the college’s policies have been broken,” said Dalia Corkrum, the director of Penrose Library.

The college has an established copyright policy for academic uses (available online) which all material in print or on the Internet is subject to at Whitman. According to Corckrum, Penrose Library is available to help students, staff or faculty members sort through the copyright laws to find the acceptable use of digital and print information at the college.

“Our goal is to facilitate scholarship and academic research and to try to do everything we can to make sure students and staff have access to all resources available whether they are copyrighted or not,” said Corckrum.

But according to WCTS, legal concerns are not the only issue with participating in these types of illegal file sharing websites.

“Students are not only running a legal risk,” said Kelly. “As much as half of the content is infected, so there is also a definite risk to them as well and any legal restrictions.”

“People need to be just generally more aware of everything they are doing on the Internet,” added Osterman. “There are security and privacy concerns for the students which could be potentially very harmful.”

Though the college is not considering adopting any new policies that would limit this type of file sharing on the Whitman network at this time, many institutions have adopted or considered adopting restricting policies. According to WCTS, dealing with these notices requires staff resources and time, which could become increasingly difficult to manage if the notices continue to increase like they have shown so far this fall.

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