Copyright Lawsuits

Subject: Recording Industry Files Suit Against Individual Students

Please read this notice carefully. If you do any music (MP3), video, game software, or other copyrighted content downloading or sharing, you are advised to be aware of aggressive new actions being taken by the industries that own the copyrights and by the U.S. Justice Department.

As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month and described in a New York Times article today (April 23, 2003), the recording industry filed suit against four students, one each at Michigan Technological University and Princeton University, and two at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The students are accused of providing local access on the campus network to thousands of songs in violation of copyright. For each song allegedly used illegally, $150,000 is being asked in the suit.

A report in yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states that 220 students at Penn State U. have had their Internet connections in their dorm rooms terminated after they were found by university administrators to be sharing copyrighted material.

In recent weeks, Verizon Communications was sued by the recording industry to obtain the names of individuals who are using Internet connections to illegally transmit copyrighted content. The federal court ruled that Verizon must provide those names, although the decision is being appealed. This is of direct relevance to you because, like Verizon, Colby is an Internet Service Provider to its customers and employees (students, faculty, and staff who use the campus network).

During congressional hearings in the past several weeks, the Justice Department has been urged by members of congress to take action against students who infringe copyright and there are indications that criminal prosecutions may occur more frequently.

You have received warnings from me and in stated College policy documents that file downloading and redistribution that infringes copyright is a violation of federal law. You have received notices that the use of applications such as Kazaa, Gnutella, Morpheus, etc. that facilitate file downloading and sharing in violation of copyright may put you in jeopardy of criminal and civil legal penalties.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act procedures have provided a mechanism by which a student could be warned of activity that violates the law without disclosure of the students name to the copyright owner. However, the industry now appears to be taking legal action directly against students and the Justice Department may become more active in criminal prosecutions. So far this academic year, I have processed complaints by the recording, motion picture, and software industries about apparently illegal activity being carried out on computers owned by about two-dozen Colby students. While editing this notice I have received another complaint, this time from Universal Studios, about a feature film being distributed in violation of copyright from a student's computer on campus. This is a fairly typical copyright infringement complaint. The good news is that the current process has given students a warning conveyed by me. The bad news is that this could all change soon as notices might come from a court in which enormous sums are sought to cover damages as a result of illegal distribution of copyrighted content or, worse, criminal charges being pursued by a US Attorney in federal court.

At this point there is no question that you should know that illegally downloading files that infringe on copyright could lead to civil and criminal prosecution. If your computer is functioning as a server of these files, even if you did not deliberately set it up to do so when you installed something like Kazaa, you may well be the target of litigation. The purpose of this notice is to make sure you understand that the copyright owners are taking much more aggressive action to stop illegal copyright infringement.

Please note that the claim that "everyone I know is doing this so how can it be wrong" is not a viable defense. I have heard that from two students this week. While it may be true that many of you are using file sharing software in violation of copyright law, that will not help if you are singled out by the industry to pay damages or by prosecutors bringing criminal charges.

If you need assistance in removing file sharing software from your computer, see the ITS web pages for information about Kazaa and other applications and arrange with a local computer store to remove all file sharing software. A list of local stores is available on the ITS web site. Student Computer Services (3666) cannot provide more than basic information about uninstalling software. For some file sharing software, it is a complex process to find and remove the software. A simple uninstall of a file sharing application may not remove the server function. SCS will not attempt to remove or uninstall any peer-to-peer file sharing application for you.

Finally, think twice about installing a peer-to-peer file sharing application like Kazaa. If you do install it, make sure the server function is disabled and do not use it to download material in violation of copyright.

If you have any questions about state and federal copyright law, College policies and procedures, or any aspect of this notice, please send me email at rbphilli@colby.edu, call me at 3582, or stop by my office in Lovejoy 105.

Ray Phillips
Dir. of Information Technology Services