University formalizes illegal downloading consequences

Anne Boyd

Villanova University administration has made changes to the judicial system that aim to make students more aware of laws and consequences regarding downloading and sharing copyrighted material. While the downloading and file sharing policy itself has not changed, University administration decided to update the way it will be handling such infringements. The new process for addressing downloading violations is much more formalized, according to Ryan Rost, Assistant Dean of Students for Judicial Affairs. With programs such as Kazaa, Limewire and Morpheus, file sharing and downloading of movies and music has become a nationwide epidemic to the record and movie industries. It has also become a convenient way to save money to college students. However, many students are getting in trouble because the majority don’t seem to be aware of school policies nor of the consequences that come with being caught. By standardizing and formalizing the way infractions at Villanova are handled, administrators hope that students will become more aware of what can happen and that, with time, the illegal file sharing and downloading will decrease and eventually stop. Beginning this semester, students who are caught violating the current University policy, which is outlined in the student handbook, will be held accountable based on the severity of the infraction. First, the violating student will be contacted by University Information Technologies through e-mail. The e-mail will inform the student of the violation and instruct them to contact UNIT for further information. At that point, the student’s IP port is most likely to be shut down as an effort to encourage students to rectify the situation as soon as possible. By shutting down the IP port, the student loses all access to the Internet through his or her personal computer, from any location. While this may seem like a harsh inconvenience, according to Rost, it is only to ensure that the student takes care of the matter as soon as possible. When the student contacts UNIT for more information, he or she will have to sign a statement acknowledging that they indeed downloaded copyrighted materials, and then all illegal files will be removed from the computer by UNIT. If the student is a repeat offender of the policy, then following the contact with UNIT, judicial action will be taken by the Dean of Students office. Depending on the severity of the violation, a repeat offender could get anything from a warning to probation suspension. Fining is also a possibility depending on the situation. All offenses referred for judicial action will be recorded on the student’s file as well. In addition, legal action could be taken against students by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) or the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The recording industries are constantly on the lookout for violators. “Villanova still periodically receives inquiries from RIAA and MPAA about individual student’s accounts that those industry watchdogs have identified as infringing,” Villanova General Counsel, Thomas Mahoney said. The legal ramifications of illegal downloading or sharing are usually severe and include considerable fines. Several Villanova students were among hundreds of individuals named in suits by the RIAA last year. Despite the large number of people sued last year, file sharing has not gone down. “Our own network monitoring indicates that file sharing is still a major network activity and Villanova continues to receive warnings from the RIAA and MPAA as they monitor activities over the Internet,” according to Steven Fugale, Chief Information Officer for UNIT. The RIAA and MPAA alert the contacts at UNIT because the University can be held liable since the network is owned by Villanova. In addition to putting the University at legal risk, file sharing and downloading impacts how well and how fast the network functions. By creating a more formal process for addressing problems, the University hopes to educate students on the policy and the consequences. In the past, the manner of addressing violations was much more casual and for the most part, judicial action was not taken. The main emphasis that administrators want to get across to students through the changes in formality is that any file sharing or downloading of copyrighted material without permission of the owner is illegal, whether it is on or off campus.