A recent flood of warning letters has made it more difficult for students to share copyrighted files on UR’s computer networks.

NetPD, a company based in London, has been scouring the computers at UR and at other colleges and Internet Service Providers looking for illegally shared copyrighted content.

In the past week, UR has received warning letters from the company pertaining to 17 students, Associate Vice Provost for Computing Liudvikas Bukys said. The students’ network connections were temporarily cut.

Bukys said that UR has to respond when it gets these notices, or face legal action. “We kinda have no choice,” he said. “The university doesn’t want any liability on this issue.”

The legal issues arise from the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, a federal law enacted in 1998 and intended to update copyright law for the digital age.

Junior Jeff Sottolano was one of the students whose computer was disconnected. He said his connection was cut without warning Thursday and he didn’t know why. “After I had uninstalled all my ethernet devices, I finally called ResNet,” he said. “I definitely didn’t think it was fair that I was given no prior warning.”

He said that ResNet didn’t get his connection working again until Wednesday. “I don’t see how it’s in [UR’s] right to shut down our internet access, especially since e-mail is such an important way of communicating,” he said. “I was dying without it.”

Bukys said that in the future, students will be given a three-day warning to stop sharing the infringing files.

He said that UR has received the warning letters in the past, but not the volume that have come in from NetPD in the past week.

“The companies are getting more animated,” Bukys said. “It’s easy for them to find you because if your intent is to share your files with a few thousand of your friends, then that includes the record companies too.”

A feature of NetPD’s software is that it searches the content of files, not just file names. So if users rename copyrighted files in an attempt to hide them, NetPD can still find them, co-founder and technical director Bruce Ward said.

“The software was designed to handle pops, cracks, skips, and all the wonderful things that degrade the quality of MP3 files, and still identify the songs accurately,” he said in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Concerns have arisen at UR and at other colleges as to whether NetPD’s warning notices are in compliance with the DMCA. “NetPD doesn’t always send them to the right place,” Bukys said. “I kinda wonder if they’re doing this very carefully or not.”

“I have seen no indication that NetPD, in fact, is the authorized agent for the copyright works that they bring to our attention,” said Rodney Petersen, the director of policy and planning at the information technology office at the University of Maryland, in the Chronicle.

Still, UR takes the letters seriously.

“The fact that NetPD doesn’t always send it to the right person doesn’t make us completely comfortable about ignoring it,” Bukys said. “It’s kinda grossly inconvenient for everyone all around, but at the same time copyright infringement is a serious issue.”

Bock can be reached at dbock@campustimes.org.

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