GW is carefully monitoring students who excessively download illegal music files from the Internet to protect them and the University from legal repercussions.
Associate General Counsel Linda Schutjer said the University’s technology staff tracks computer uploads and downloads by compiling a “Top Talker” list each week.
The technology staff closely watches the 20 highest users for the week by taking multiple “snapshots” of student use periodically. If a student continues to abuse the network, GW will warn the student through an e-mail. If the student does not comply with the requests to lower trafficking after two warnings, GW will disconnect his or her network connection.
“Most students comply after the first time because most did not realize they were servicing out so much,” Schutjer said.
She also said the University has had meetings with the Recording Industry Association of America, which filed four lawsuits against college students last spring who freely shared copyrighted music over the Internet. On Monday, the RIAA filed 261 infringement claims.
Schutjer said the RIAA was “very cordial” to GW during the meetings.
“They are happy with what we’re doing based on my previous discussions with them, but they were happy with (Pennsylvania State University) and they got all over Penn State,” she said.
The Chronicle of Higher education reported in May that the president of Penn State completely cut off downloading to students out of fear of liability because of increased pressure from the RIAA.
“We are filing (against) those who are uploading or distributing on peer-to-peer systems,” said Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the RIAA. “Downloading is just as illegal as those who are distributing, but at this moment we are filing those that are uploading.”
When a person is downloading music and has his uploading option on, other users can access his files, but it is possible to turn off the uploading feature.
These civil lawsuits are the first “wave of what could ultimately be thousands of civil lawsuits against major offenders,” Lamy said. The RIAA has targeted individuals who have uploaded more than 1,000 songs each.
Lamy said college students happen to be one of the main groups that are profiled but are not specifically targeted.
Although GW officials said they are concerned about the potential consequences of student file-sharing, they do not have any policies that completely prohibit KaZaA use, file-sharing or illegal downloading.
“File sharing is not against our rules in itself,” said Guy Jones, Chief Technology Officer. “The use of the file sharing is infringement on copyright, which is against the law. Its like saying we don’t restrict students from running into the street against traffic lights, but it’s a danger.”
Jones added that the University would not go as far as shutting down access to programs like KaZaA or Morpheus, but students who abuse resources and emit extremely heavy trafficking do receive warnings.
“It’s a university. We’re not a Gestapo,” Jones said. “Shutting it off is used as a last resort. It doesn’t get that far often.”
Jones said GW has also sent e-mails to students reminding them that sharing music, movie and game files are against the law, but if a student is charged with copyright infringement the University will not be held rsponsible.
Several students said the lawsuits will not deter them from downloading, but many students have canceled the option to let others upload.
Sophomore Emily McCarthy said suing a small group of people is not going to stop her from downloading.
“I have 360 songs, and I’m going to keep downloading because it doesn’t affect me right now,” McCarthy said. “I don’t download that much.”
Under federal copyright laws, defendants can be held liable for $750 to $150,000 for each incident, according to the RIAA.