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What is File Sharing?

The following is an overview of Carleton's general policy on file sharing. The article includes details on the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) current methods of dealing with Copyright infringement.

Please select the following link for information on Carleton's procedures for handling all DMCA Notices.

File Sharing Happens - but is it OK?

During the 2006-07 academic year, the RIAA sent approximately twenty-five notifications to members of the Carleton community to cease and desist sharing copyrighted music files. A further twenty-five or so notices were sent from similar organizations representing other industries (e.g. MPAA, BSA, ESA). Most people on campus have heard of file sharing and many even consider themselves expert file sharers. In light of recent moves by the RIAA, it is imperative that the community understands the college policy on file sharing and copyright infringement.

So What Is It?

In the world of digital file sharing, there exist the Needy, who wish to obtain a file, and the Benevolent, who have a copy of said file and are willing to share. Instead of having to seek one another out and exchange copies directly, they need only make use of a file sharing application. The Benevolent use the application to make their files available to all who are interested, while the Needy use it to search for their files of choice. When matches are made, the software connects them and performs the exchanges. The concept is sound and quite elegant. However, as with so many things, there is plenty of room for abuse, in this case primarily copyright infringement.

RIAA's Impact on Institutes of Higher Education

Recently, the RIAA initiated a new process for lawsuits against students in an attempt to curb the sharing of copyrighted materials on campuses across the country. For some years now, colleges have been receiving Copyright Infringement Notifications (or "cease and desist" notices) from the RIAA identifying individual examples of illegal file sharing activity on their networks. These notifications ask the colleges to take steps to prevent the individual from continuing to share the specified files otherwise the institution could be held liable for future infringements. These could be considered "good faith" requests and are honored by many if not all institutions as required under the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Starting in February 2007, however, the RIAA upped the ante, sending colleges "settlement letters" with the IP address of an alleged offender and requesting that the colleges forward the letters to the individuals associated with the given IP address. The intent of these settlement letters is to give individuals advance notice of the RIAA's intent to file a law suit against them and provide the opportunity to settle the claims prior to suit actually being filed. During the summer of 2007, Carleton received seven such notices.

How Are Students Identified?

RIAA notices identify the intended recipients - the alleged infringers - by way of the IP address from which the material is being shared. The RIAA then sends the notifications to the service provider responsible for that IP address, in this case, Carleton College. It is then up to the college to reconcile the IP address with the student.

When anyone on campus connects their computer to the network for the first time, they have to step through the registration process. This process registers the machine in that person's name and assigns it a specific IP address. In other words, every IP address issued by Carleton is associated with both a computer (or other networked device) and the person who registered it. It is not possible to register a machine on the college network anonymously. The college uses this association to identify the intended recipients of RIAA notifications.

What Is Carleton's Policy?

Philosophical and political considerations aside, what is the college's official stance on file sharing?

Most importantly, the college recognizes that the concept of file-sharing is entirely legal, as is file-sharing software. File sharing applications such as BitTorrent have many perfectly legitimate uses and the college has no desire to restrict or eliminate their use on campus. That said, these applications can be abused - they are the hot topic in the world of copyright infringement. Current college policies address this abusive use in two ways.

First, the college certainly does not permit the unauthorized sharing of copyrighted material, the most common examples of which are music and movies. Referring to the Academic User Agreement (which everyone agrees to when registering on our network):

Your use of the Carleton computer network must comply with all federal, Minnesota, and other applicable law; all applicable contracts and licenses; and College policies as articulated in the Student, Faculty and Staff Handbooks. These laws, contracts, licenses and policies include:
*laws governing libel, privacy, copyright, trademark,...

(There are occasions where the limited distribution of certain copyrighted materials for educational purposes is permitted by law under the Fair Use clause. For more specifics on this, please refer to Carleton's Copyright Policy).

Second, file sharing can slow campus wide network access. Early in the 2006-07 academic year, our network administrators were reviewing network traffic to measure the volume used by file sharing applications. (Note: Carleton's ITS department does not monitor network traffic for content. We have neither the time, nor the resources, nor the desire to do so). Historically, problems with network lag have been due in part to the volume of file sharing traffic on campus. Currently, ITS may contact or, in extreme cases restrict individuals who are using more than their fair share of the campus bandwidth. For most people on campus, this has no impact whatsoever. For the people that this does effect, the intent is simply to encourage more responsible behavior on their part as local network citizens. To quote the Academic User Agreement again, specifically the section detailing rights and responsibilities with respect to community IT resources:

Your Right:
Fair access. No other user may deny, diminish or disrupt your access through any means, including:
*unduly consuming computer, printer and network resources;...
Your Responsibility:
To uphold the right to fair access of your fellow users by properly utilizing resources and avoiding any detrimental effect on the work of others.

For more information on campus bandwidth management, please see the ITS page on Internet Access and Usage Metering.

Please select the following link for a more detailed review of the DMCA Notice Procedure at Carleton.

Going forward, we will continue to help educate the community with respect to the use and proper configuration of file sharing applications. A conversation on the matter of file sharing can spawn lengthy, in-depth, ethical, legal and political discussions on the rights of individual consumers, the RIAA's apparent stance on due process, and the current state of Copyright laws. However, this article wishes to limit itself to its stated intent, the clarification of Carleton's policy on file sharing. It hopes that it has succeeded, and that if you do have any subsequent questions or concerns, it would ask you to contact its author or your designated ITS representative.

R Kevin Chapman
Student Computing Coordinator

Sidebar: Little Known Facts About File Sharing

Those in our community who partake of this popular pastime may be interested in reading through the following section on little known facts about file sharing. This is not intended to discourage file sharing as such, but perhaps prompt a little reconsideration.

*File sharing applications can be bad for your hard drive.
When files are shared, they are broken down into hundreds or thousands of smaller parts which are shared in random order. This works your hard drive extremely hard as it constantly jumps around between file parts to copy or save them. Few consumer level hard drives are designed to keep up this pace for hours at a time.

*File sharing is a great way for viruses and spyware to travel.
When you obtain a file through a file sharing network, there's really no way to know if it is what it says it is until you try it out. This is just like opening an unknown email attachment. Remember, any one of those IP addresses in your swarm could belong to a virus writer looking to share his wares. Viruses are files too.

*"Preferred configurations" can overload your network.
File sharers are encouraged to configure their software to share as much as possible as fast as possible with as many connections as possible. This can result in thousands of new connections per second per machine, which bogs down the systems responsible for monitoring and securing each new connection to or from our network.

*File Sharing can impede network security and virus detection.
One of the easiest methods that IT departments have of identifying infected machines on the network is to look for machines that are constantly trying to establish large numbers of new connections. With so many file sharing applications trying to do the same thing, the water becomes significantly muddier and such infections are much more difficult to spot.

Useful Links Regarding File Sharing

Recording Industry Association of America

RIAA Home Page

RIAA Launches New Initiatives Targeting Campus Music Thefts

Campus Music Theft Gets Congressional Spotlight

Campus Downloading (RIAA "Educational" Site)

P2P Lawsuits (RIAA settlement site)

Sample RIAA Pre-Litigation Settlement Letter

RIAA Letter to University Presidents

How the RIAA Litigation Process Works

Recording Industry vs The People

Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF: RIAA v. The Students: An FAQ for "Pre-Lawsuit" Letter Targets

RIAA v. The People: Two Years Later

Content Owners

Recording Industry Association of America Home Page

Motion Picture Association of America Home Page

Business Software Alliance Home Page

Entertainment Software Association Home Page


Carleton's Academic User Agreement

Carleton's Community Standards Policy

Informational Sources for Students

Central Washington University - Intellectual Property & P2P File Sharing Videos

Educause Translation of DMCA Titles II & III