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OIT copes with illegal file sharing

With the rising popularity of file sharing, universities such as Portland State have taken on the responsibility of stopping the transfer of illegally procured files on, or within, campus computer systems.

The PSU Acceptable Use Policy states, “Copying software protected by copyright” is a violation of that policy, which could result in disciplinary action.

The recent actions against file sharing have been brought about since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, which obligates Internet providers and universities to report any found copyright abusers.

PSU was forced to start dealing with file-sharing and copyright violators when the DMCA went into effect.

However, according to PSU’s information security officer Cory Bell, they did not begin to get a significant amount of complaints from copyright holders until last year.

Bell was hired by the university in May 2002 to develop an information security program. The program’s tasks include ensuring the campus is in complete compliance with state and federal laws and regulations, including those established by the DMCA.

According to Bell, copyright owners, including the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, hire agencies to scan for violations and then report them.

Once this occurs, the copyright holder will then send their complaint to PSU.

Currently, PSU receives about one or two complaints per week about illegitimate file sharing, Bell said.

With first time violators, Bell said they usually only receive a warning.

“Many times, people don’t realize they are sharing files in the first place,” Bell explained.

If the violator does not respond to their warning or does not remove the illegal files, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) will disconnect that person’s Internet service.

Bell explained there are three types of file sharing. The first is legitimate file sharing, usually between or within university departments. Sharing any personally owned and public domain media is also acceptable.

The second is intentional, illegal file sharing. This includes the downloading of copyrighted material, such as songs and movies without permission.

The third is unintentional, illegal file sharing, in which the person was illegitimately downloading copyrighted material, but was not aware it was a violation of university policy and federal law.

Bell said the most commonly shared content is music and movies.

Jahed Suhkun, OIT help desk manager, said they will always try to see what is going on with suspected copyright violators.

“But people are always going to be able to download files from the Internet,” Suhkun said.

Bell explained neither he nor the OIT regulates computer activity, but rather they look for anomalies in usage. These anomalies cause them to monitor a person’s communication to see if he or she is doing anything illegal or against the Acceptable Use Policy.

An anomaly that would be investigated would include “a sudden and significant increase in the amount of traffic in a given area,” Bell said.

OIT does not monitor people’s activities when they use campus computers, but they do monitor the machines’ activities.

“We can’t do anything to stop 100 percent of illegal file sharing from happening without blocking its legal uses,” Bell said. “We are committed to striking the proper balance between the rights of content owners and the rights of our customers.”