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Potential lawsuits
Avoid downloading copyrighted material off web

By : Saraha Lifshin

Peer-to-peer file sharing is not illegal but BU computer officials are warning students to think twice about using the tools to download copyrighted music in order to avoid potential hefty lawsuit payments to record companies.

Mark Reed, director of computing services, said that since the programs have a legitimate academic use for sharing information online, their use is not banned by the University.

"Intellectual property rights are always important to a University campus," Reed said. "We deal with ideas so people should learn to respect the copyright laws."

However, because of recent problems, which have slowed the campus" network, the bandwidth for downloading and uploading has been limited.

The Recording Industry Association of America last week filed the first round of 261 lawsuits against computer users who share a substantial amount of pirated music online, on average about 1,000 songs.

Industry officials said that they would not sue people who voluntarily identify themselves and promise not to share more free music on the Web.

However, the potential lawsuits don't seem to scare many people who continuously share copyrighted music and movies and ignore the threats of having to pay out thousands of dollars for breaking copyright laws.

BU last year received more than 200 letters from RIAA, Universal Pictures and the Business Software Alliance complaining of copyrighted materials being offered through peer-to-peer by University students on the Web.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the University is obligated to respond to these letters by removing the offending materials. Reed said that this year the RIAA has become more aggressive by filing lawsuits.

Computer users hit with lawsuits could face fines of $150,000 and up to 10 years in jail for each downloaded song. This year the recording industry accepted settlements up to $20,000 each from college students accused of trading songs on the Web.

Reed said that outbound traffic has been particularly a problem for BU, because it overwhelms the computer network when it is unrestricted and since it serves no apparent academic purpose for the University.

The file sharing programs have also been blocked for outbound use. Normally, the University allows inbound file sharing traffic to proceed at a level that will not slow the network noticeably. However, because of recent rapid computer viruses, the programs have been limited to preserve network bandwidth.

Reed said that since blaster activity is subsiding, the University is now raising the bandwidth available for inbound file sharing traffic and will eventually reach a sufficient medium, which balances competing types of network traffic.

However, Reed said students should just avoid downloading any copyrighted material.

Reed said along with not violating the copyright law, students who use peer-to-peer should turn off the sharing option in the software, which gives outside users access to their machines. Also, the campus community should reduce worm and virus traffic by using free virus software provided by the University.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08