Matt Crowley/The AS Review
When was the last time you paid for an album? Or a movie? Or a piece of software? For millions of people around the world, digital piracy has become a natural way of life. And for many dorm-inhabiting undergraduates at Western, the popular file-sharing program DC++ only makes life easier.
DC++ is similar to other file-sharing programs, but what makes Western’s DC++ hub so enticing for students is the instant gratification it provides. Since all of the users and files are on the same network, music, movies, TV shows and software can be downloaded in a fraction of the time it would take other programs like LimeWire.
It’s unclear where, when or how DC++ got started. If it was, Western’s Residential Technology Services Program Coordinator Howard Muhlberg and the rest of his staff wouldn’t have to deal with the mess of issues that comes with it, from over-capacity bandwidth to litigation notices from the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.
“The policy is that you can’t use the network for violating copyright law,” said Muhlberg, referring to the agreement all students must sign before they can use the on-campus network. “Our stance is that no matter what the technology is, if you’re violating copyright law then you’re in violation of our user agreement.”
Associated Students Legal Information Center Coordinator Chris Chatburn said it is illegal to wrongfully obtain and disperse copyrighted material, no matter what the scenario. Any sort of copyright infringement is not only a violation of federal law but also of Western’s student rights and responsibilities code, he added.
“Honestly, at the time of wanting a song, I don’t worry about it,” said Western student Kevin Anderson. “It’s a couple days later I think about the possibility of being caught, but I’ve never feared being caught for file-sharing.”
Muhlberg said the RIAA and MPAA hire companies to monitor traffic and look for indications of copyright violation. When they find something, they send Muhlberg a notice telling him of the violation and providing necessary information to take action, which he is required to do under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
“We get these notices, and we get a lot of them,” said Muhlberg. “The numbers have spiked this year. We had over a hundred within the first week of fall quarter, and we are up to several hundred now.”
From there, Muhlberg and his staff investigate the IP address in question to make sure the allegation is true. Once it is confirmed, they take the appropriate steps of punishment. Most cases end up with a student’s Internet connection being shut off for a week or possibly more if there is a history of multiple violations.
In some cases, the penalties become more serious and can even involve the threat of lawsuits against the university.
Because ResTek does not divulge students’ information, the RIAA and other enforcement groups are left to go after the institution and have at times threatened to sue if the school does not agree to what’s called a “pre-litigation settlement,” essentially a lump sum that will keep the association in question from pursuing further action.
In cases such as this, the school will notify the offending student of the charges and let them decide how they want to handle it. In Muhlberg’s four years at Western, only once has the school been subpoenaed to provide a student’s information.
“We don’t know when it’s going on,” said Muhlberg.” It’s funny because a lot of people have a common misconception that DC++ is set up by the university. It’s set up by students for students.”
Muhlberg said the hundreds of notices the school receives and addresses each year means that the school is losing money right along with the record labels and movie studios that are being stolen from.
“There are university resources being hogged up from having to deal with this,” said Muhlberg. “We’re talking about big chunks of time and money.”
While the university explores other options for dealing with the violations, DC++ use on campus shows no sign of stopping.
By the end of first week of winter quarter, Muhlberg and his staff had already received dozens of notices.