This spring GW issued cease and desist letters to 19 students for the alleged illegal downloading of various forms of media in response to an escalated effort by the Recording Industry Association of America and other companies to enforce copyright laws.
The RIAA sent more than 2,000 pre-litigation notices to universities starting in February, a spokesperson for the organization said. The letters instructed University officials to send cease and desist notices to students allegedly downloading illegally. Other companies have sent similar letters to students, threatening lawsuits unless they comply.
At the request of HBO, GW sent a cease and desist notice to junior Adam Rosenbloom this May. The e-mail said he had used “the GW network in a way that is in violation of University policy” and that he violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The DMCA is a federal copyright law that outlaws the production and dissemination of any program that circumvents copyrighted works.
Rosenbloom said he downloaded HBO shows illegally because he likes to watch them when he has free time, rather than when they air.
“I respect HBO and I love their programming, but sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow me to catch the shows at the exact time they air,” Rosenbloom said.
Cara Duckworth, a spokesperson for the RIAA, said they target universities by monitoring peer-to-peer networks for the illegal distribution of material. They capture IP addresses – a number unique to each Internet location – as well as a sample of the file being downloaded and the time of the illegal activity. This information is then sent to the University.
When the University matches the IP address with the user, a notice is sent to the student containing the evidence of the violation. They are then given the chance to contact the RIAA directly to discuss a settlement.
Duckworth said the cost per violation can reach up to $750, though most settlements are much less.
In order to preemptively avoid notices from outside companies, GW keeps a “Top Talker” list to monitor the top 20 computers exceeding the bandwidth quota on the GW network, said Alexa Kim, executive director of ISS Technology Services. Students on the list are contacted to determine whether they are using the network legally.
After three warnings, a student’s network access may be severed until the end of the semester, she added.
Junior Alex Bellone has received four notices from the University – two each year – warning him that he was “using excessive bandwidth” and would lose his Internet connection unless he alters his online habits.
Bellone also received an e-mail from Student Technology Services saying that there was no “hard limit” to define excessive usage.
Duckworth, of the RIAA, said there has been “a general shift in mainstream news coverage to focus on the exciting legal services in the marketplace today.” She added, however, that “there are individuals who choose to ignore this route and get low-quality music from illegal sites that often come bundled with damaging viruses and spy ware.”
GW offered a free version of Napster, a legal downloading program, from 2004 to 2006. Due to lack of student participation, however, the University ended its contract with Napster for the service last year.