GW might join dozens of other schools that have cracked down on use of Napster, the largest online community for sharing and distributing MP3 music files, University officials said.
While students risk a wide-range of penalties for pirating music off the Internet, the University aims to educate them about the laws before doling out punishments.
Students nationwide download free music files from www.napster.com using high-speed Internet connections of university computer networks. More than 60 universities have already banned the service.
We want to make students aware that copyright infringement is illegal, said Jeff Baxter, interim communications coordinator for Information Systems and Services. This way, no one can claim ignorance if they get caught.
Although the University has not yet created an official policy dealing with the use of Napster on its computer network, ISS does inform students of possible punishment, both on University and federal levels, for violating copyright law, Baxter said.
Punishment for copyright infringement includes computer service restriction and the threat of outside legal action.
Discussions on the University’s Napster policy are ongoing, and a ban on the service is possible, Baxter said. While the University could block the service entirely from its network, there are other options to stop students from pirating music, Baxter said.
The University could use traffic filters or monitor excessive bandwidth use to target and counsel people using Napster. GW could also allocate network bandwidth to each user to curb connection monopolization.
Baxter said the University might explore firewalls to block the service. Alexa Kim, director of technology communication for Student Academic and Support Services, declined to comment.
Other universities have taken action against Napster because its use congests their Internet access and chokes up connections for other users. GW’s gripe with the free-music service stems primarily from concern over copyright law, Baxter said.
Dave Swartz, chief information officer of ISS, wrote a memo to students emphasizing the University’s commitment to protect copyrighted material that referred students to current University policy on copyright and intellectual property.
Computer users may use only legally obtained licensed data or software in compliance with license or other agreements and federal copyright or intellectual property laws, according to the University’s Code of Conduct for Users of Computing Systems and Services.
As a condition to your use of the Napster service and browser you agree that you will not use the Napster service to infringe the intellectual property rights of others in any way, according to the Web site.
The company is able to disavow direct liability to copyright laws because MP3 music files are kept in a vast library of user databases that aren’t controlled by Napster. But some organizations have filed lawsuits against that claim.
The Recording Industry Association of America is suing Napster on behalf of 18 major recording companies, accusing them of contributory and vicarious copyright infringement, according to legal documents from the corporation.
The rock band Metallica joined the battle against Napster this month for encouraging unapproved trade of their songs.
Napster holds that its service is a way for ambitious bands to spread their names. Others disagree.
Napster is the greatest example of aiding and abetting a theft that I have ever seen, said Ron Stone, manager of recording artists including Bonnie Raitt and Tracy Chapman, according to Time. Ninety-nine percent of their content is illegal.
Some students said the University’s policy should depend on the outcome of the suits against Napster.
(The University’s) argument is valid, said freshman Napster-user Anthony Yu. But if Napster is really infringing upon companies’ copyright laws, it’s up to them to take action against Napster, not for the University to take a proactive measure.
ISS’s first priority is to make sure the network is available for general use, Baxter said.
The University doesn’t want to run around telling people how to use their bandwidths, he said. GW has only suffered a slight increase in recent network traffic, likely from Napster use, but other schools have had more severe problems.
According to an ABC News report, Northwestern University attributed as much as 30 percent of its Internet use to Napster activity before it blocked the service. American University also blocked Napster use on campus this semester after the university’s Internet connections were exhausted before winter break.
We don’t make a habit of going out and looking for these things, said Eric Weakland, who works in AU’s Office of Information Technology. I didn’t realize it had become so prevalent. Weakland said that despite the student backlash to the ban, he said he hopes they will understand the need for network access for real academic work.
Weakland said that even after the ban, the AU network still experiences maximum network use at times. Other file-sharing programs similar to Napster may contribute to the problem.
Scour Media Agent promotes its Scour Exchange program for MP3s, videos, images and more. The company requires users to agree to copyright compliance before they can use the service.
iMesh is another community that has become an increasingly popular program for music and videos but is also under scrutiny for copyright trouble.
Baxter said that each new file-sharing program will be a new challenge for GW and will lead to more discussion on policy.
Technology makes it easier to infringe on copyrights, he said. Our first step is communication. There’ll be no slapping on the wrist until people know what they are doing wrong.