Illegal file sharing on campus can land students in hot water

September 13, 2009 by Tom Sandford NMSU Round Up

Every week, as many as 20 New Mexico State University students are caught illegally downloading and sharing copyrighted material over the internet, and the consequences can be devastating.

When a student illegally downloads music, the NMSU Information and Communication Technologies Department is the first to know about it.

“Students aren’t allowed to break the law, and copyright law says you can’t possess music you didn’t purchase,” ICT Chief Information Officer Shaun Cooper said.

One of the most common ways music is illegally distributed is through peer-to-peer computer programs, such as Kazaa and Limewire, in which users can search for and download copyrighted material, Cooper said.

The illegal action that students perform is not when they download a file, but when the content is made available for others to download, Cooper said.

“When you download something and share it, it makes your computer into a server, which is illegal,” Cooper said.

The process of finding and punishing offending individuals starts with the Recording Industry Association of America. The RIAA hires companies that scan the internet for people illegally exchanging copyrighted songs and media, including those at NMSU, Cooper said.

Every NMSU Internet network user is required to register his or her computer with ICT, which allows illegal downloads to be traced back to the user through the Internet protocol address of the student’s computer.

Once the IP address of the offender is identified, ICT is contacted and asked to surrender the name of the offender on the NMSU system, Cooper said.

After identifying the offender, ICT shuts down internet access to the user’s computer and notifies the user that he or she is in violation of federal law and university policy.

“We can associate [students’] computers with those illegal transactions through their IP address,” Cooper said.

If caught, students face a price a thousand times more expensive than the cost of a few legal song downloads.

Around 14 months ago, ICT was asked for the first time by the RIAA to provide pre-subpoenas to eight NMSU students who violated copyright law.

“In most cases, the RIAA decided to settle with those students for $3,000 per illegally shared file,” Cooper said.

Illegal file sharing is not limited to NMSU. According to the RIAA Web site, file sharing causes $12.5 billion in economic losses every year.

Cooper said illegal downloading is not as big an issue at NMSU as it is at other institutions because the actions taken by the ICT department discourage students from participating.

“Most institutions lack the ability to find students that illegally download, but we can do that at NMSU.” Cooper said. “People don’t understand that we have a way to look at their actions.”

ICT also discourages illegal downloading by limiting the amount of Internet bandwidth devoted to exchanging peer-to-peer data.

“We don’t monitor the content of peer-to-peer activity, we just limit how much of it we can allow,” Cooper said. “It’s a really small pipe.”

Matt Bouma, a freshman in music education, said he downloaded a file-sharing program, but rarely uses it.

“I use iTunes,” Bouma said. “If someone writes a song and records it, they should get credit for it.”

Still, others have a more galvanized position on the subject.

“Basically, people that use Limewire are freeloading,” said Rebeccah Balizan, a senior in information engineering technology. “If one person buys the CD and another gets it for free, it’s not fair to the artist or the CD buyer.”

ICT is planning a more proactive and positive approach to discouraging illegal file-sharing.

This year, the department is trying to create an anti-piracy campaign for students, including a survey that participants can complete for the chance to win prizes, Cooper said.

“We want to take time and connect with students in a positive way so they can practice good ethics,” Cooper said.

Tom Sandford is a news reporter and can be reached at

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