Dec. 7-13, 2001
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Photo illustration of a student about to download information from, a Web site where audio files can be retrieved.

Music downloads draw virtual cops

By Matt Kelly

If you share copyrighted music over a peer-to-peer network, a virtual cop could come knocking on the University’s door.

U.Va. is one of several universities receiving notices from NetPD, a London-based company warning that students have been stealing and distributing copyrighted music. The music is distributed on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, such as Gnutella or Aimster, in which students seek out a piece of music, download it onto their machines and, from there, it is available for other people to access.

Attorney Thomas B. Nachbar, who teaches contract law, copyrights and regulation of new media at the Law School, said students violate copyright laws when they copy music without permission. He said there is a “sketchy” defense in cases where the students already own a copy of a song and duplicate it to another format.

Copyright infringements can be criminal or civil and there need not be a profit factor, he said, noting that if a person copies more than $1,000 in copyrighted material, he or she has committed a criminal offense, even if receiving no remuneration for them.

Nachbar said copyright holders can grant permission to copy and distribute their work, as in the case of unknown bands that post songs to gain an audience.

“We’re getting on the scale of 10 to 20 incident reports a day [from NetPD],” said Robert F. “Chip” German Jr., director of policy and strategic planning at ITC and a member of the University’s Technology Abuse team. “One year ago, we were getting no complaints from NetPD and a declining number from RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), that were two or three a month at their peak.”

NetPD, which represents Sony Music Entertainment Inc., apparently goes online and locates music available in file- sharing networks, then notifies the server that there is a copyright violation. On a recent day, German received one message claiming 32 infringements at eight separate computer addresses, all citing songs by Michael Jackson and Incubus.

ITC turns the complaints over to the Dean of Students office, which notifies the student, strongly advising him or her to abstain from any infringing activity, and advising the student to review the University’s policy on copyrights.

Jim Jokl, director of communications for ITC, said there are many valid reasons for students to use peer-to-peer networks, and unfortunately some of them use it for illegal activities, such as copying music. By downloading file-sharing software from the Internet, students can make the music they download available to others with the same software, but there are usually protocols in some of the software to limit access.

Some schools disable the networks, German said, but U.Va. will not be doing that. He said the University has an educational mission to help students understand copyright laws and U.Va. policies., as well as how to configure their computers so files are not available for sharing.

Thomas Hall, chair of the U.Va. honor committee, said students do not consider music downloads an honor offense.

“Generally speaking, the consensus of the student body is that it is not serious,” Hall said.

“They have to follow the law,” said Pablo Davis, assistant dean of students and a member of the University’s Technology Abuse Team. “Sony could file suit against individuals.”

While NetPD can only supply a computer address, ITC in many cases can trace that computer to a person. Davis said he understood that the University would have to turn over the names of students if there is a suit.

However, Davis said NetPD has so far asked only that the infringement stop.

“We are asking for your immediate assistance in stopping this unauthorized activity,” the NetPD letter to U.Va. states. “Specifically we request that you remove the site or delete the infringing sound files or that you disable access to this site or the infringing files being offered via your system. In addition, please inform the site operator of the illegality of his or her conduct and confirm with us, in writing, that this activity has ceased.”

NetPD invokes the law in its notice. “Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, if you ignore this notice, you and/or your company may be liable for any resulting infringement.”

German said the University does not recognize the NetPD letter as a formal notification under the DMCA.

Nachbar said the act provides a safe harbor for service providers, with the University and ITC considered a pipe through which information flows. If there is valid and formal notice that the pipe is being used for illegal activity, such as copyright infringement, then the University is obligated to shut down or disable the offending sites.


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