For students who rely on torrents or peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing in order to obtain digital files, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) may soon be seen as a more relevant threat than it has been in the past. In an act to enforce copyright laws, AT&T, the Internet service provider for the University’s woodframe houses, has begun complying with DMCA notices of violations as of March 1.
“I feel like for college students, copyright infringement is a big issue [because] downloading is becoming a trend,” said Rusia Lee ’13, a resident of a woodframe house.
While the University’s Information Technology Services (ITS) provides Internet service for dorms on central campus and administrative buildings, the underground high-speed fiber-optic network connecting the buildings does not reach all of the woodframe and program houses, many of which are located away from the central campus. For these houses, AT&T is the University’s contracted Internet service provider. All Internet service providers, including ITS and AT&T, are bound by law to take action against copyright infringement.
“If [ITS is] contacted by the government with a copyright infringement notice, we have to take certain actions,” stated Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Dave Baird. “AT&T and other major Internet service providers were supposed to be doing this just like we were. It took them a bit longer to get their act together.”
Under its new initiative, AT&T will send notices of violations per address to ITS workers, who can use IP addresses on the campus network to directly notify infringers of their violations. However, ITS has no way of telling who is personally responsible for violating copyright infringement through AT&T, as Internet access comes through AT&T to wireless routers in wood frame houses. Consequently, once an address receives its sixth violation, AT&T will disconnect the residence from Internet service regardless of how many individuals at the residence are breaching copyright laws. It is also possible for an address to receive and be held accountable for an infringement notice even if the responsible individual does not reside in the house.
“It would definitely suck if one of my housemates hypothetically got caught and our entire house had to lose Internet,” wrote Theresa Keller ’14, another wood frame resident, in an email to The Argus.
Should a house get disconnected from Internet service, a remediation process would follow. The exact procedures for getting Internet service reinstated at a residence are not clear, however. According to Director of User and Technical Services Karen Warren, ITS has reached out to its AT&T representative about the reinstatement process but has yet to be provided with more information.
“My understanding is that it involves an online class you have to go through about copyright,” Warren said. “AT&T doesn’t have a lot of big commercial customers, so they don’t have great procedures around these issues. We want some detailed procedures from them to understand how we’re going to enforce it.”
Presently, ITS contacts Residential Life (ResLife) upon receiving infringement notices from AT&T. ResLife is responsible for sending the notices to the residents of that house. Since March 1, ITS has only received one woodframe infringement notice.
ITS also works with students to educate them on configurations that lead to notices, as well as the dangers of P2P sharing.
“The way P2P works is that you’re part of P2P network,” Warren explained. “Most of the time when people end up getting notices, it’s because it’s easier for tracking agencies to track where it’s being downloaded from. It’s not when you download it. It’ll be people downloading from you.”
In addition, while Internet service providers such as ITS and AT&T are responsible for notifying Internet subscribers of copyright infringement, participants of illegal P2P sharing are fully at the mercy of the content owners should they choose to litigate.
Students have expressed doubts as to the way the policy is being carried out, as well as its effectiveness.
“I think that violation of the copyright laws is really bad and an actual issue,” wrote Veronica Lumbantoruan ’15, who lives in Writing House, in an email to The Argus. “I don’t know if what AT&T has [done] is necessarily the best step to take, though.”
ITS is likewise frustrated about AT&T’s new policy, as service disconnection is outside of ITS’ control. Warren advised students living in woodframes to communicate with each other should a house receive a copyright infringement notice from ResLife.
“What I’d hate to have happen is for residents to feel blindsided,” she said. “This is the case where a house is going to be affected by the behavior of a couple [people]. If nothing else, then start asking, ‘Why are we getting these?’”
As AT&T’s contract with the University is set to expire in August, ITS plans on renegotiating with AT&T and is also actively exploring other Internet options. Baird and Warren named Comcast and Verizon as possible alternative Internet providers.
“No matter who we go with for a vendor, we’re trying to get more bandwidth for less money because that’s the way things evolve,” Baird said.
Baird noted that all vendors are enforcing copyright laws, as required by law. On this issue, students likewise acknowledged the necessity of enforcing copyright.
“Over my years at Wes, I’ve met people who are nice students, but who lack a complete respect and understanding of the outside world,” Keller wrote. “I think as a whole it’s also time for Wes students to pull their heads out of their asses, get off the dinosaur at the museum, and start living within the [same] means as the rest of the nation.”