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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

Peer-to-peer file sharing prompts media companies to complain to U

Years after the rise and fall of Napster, record and movie companies are fighting copyright infringement by sending complaints to colleges, asking them to stop students from using peer-to-peer file-sharing services.

University network controllers receive more than 100 complaints each month, said Ken Hanna, the Office of Information Technology assurance and security director.

“It just seems like it’s going up and up,” he said.

Thanks to file-sharing programs like Morpheus and KaZaA, millions of students are using their colleges’ high-speed Internet networks to download billions of games, songs, pictures and movies through peer-to-peer networks.

Because universities host the network systems students are using to download the copyrighted material, companies are directing their complaints toward the universities.

Typically, they ask schools to resolve the situation internally.

At the University, administrators ask suspected downloaders to stop their illegal activity or face consequences, including being temporarily or permanently banned from the network.

Most illegal downloading occurs in University residence halls, where students have continual access to the high-speed ResNet network.

“We’ve got to either say that we’ve got permission or we have to remove it from the network,” Hanna said. “It’s not the case where we try to make life difficult for students, but we have to live to the law and the University contract.”

Hanna said the use of file-sharing services raises concern beyond copyright infringement.

University network users are also in breach of residence hall user agreements when their applications turn computer systems into servers. Network security is a concern with file uploading.

“Oftentimes, the file-sharing crosses continents Ö and they’re very susceptible to security problems,” Hanna said.

Many file-sharing programs also occupy large amounts of bandwidth, clogging the University network.

“They’re very sophisticated, and they use all the bandwidth they can find,” Hanna said.

To combat these programs’ greedy nature, Hanna said, universities use packet-shaping technology to limit the amount of bandwidth each individual computer can use.

Hanna said file-sharing programs are not illegal; it is their use that can make users’ actions illegal.

“There is nothing that says the student can’t use them. The applications are not the problem, the problem is the infringement,” Hanna said.

Pennsylvania State University President Graham Spanier spoke to a House judiciary subcommittee Feb. 26 about the growing use of peer-to-peer technology on university campuses.

Spanier said he is concerned about security problems and copyright infringement, but said officials should recognize the programs – known in shorthand as “P2P” – carry some academic value as well.

“A song downloaded or uploaded by a student using P2P typically constitutes copyright infringement, but in selected cases it might also be a fully legitimate, desired fair use of copyrighted material as part of an educational or research project,” he said.

Regardless of whether it’s related to increased file-sharing on the University network, Drew Covi said he has noticed a more sluggish residence hall network connection when he tries to download songs.

“Last year, you could download a song in under a minute. Now you can eat a meal, go out for a movie and the song still won’t be done,” the University sophomore said.

“We pay for ResNet to use it at our own discretion, under the agreements to the contract,” he added. “I understand that the University needs to keep some bandwidth for browsing and such, but there is a noticeable difference between this year and last year.”

Branden Peterson covers the St. Paul

campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]

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