Students stymied by copyright violations
Computing and Information Services administrators have disabled
the on-campus ethernet ports of several students in recent weeks at the
behest of Sony Music Entertainment, Inc.
For senior Eric Morin, the semester was only a few days
old when "one day, I woke up and tried to use my Internet, and it
wasn't on." Morin and a roommate checked some settings on his computer
and then spoke to some friends who worked for Computing and Information
Services; they did not have an easy explanation.
NetPD, a company that monitors file-sharing networks on
behalf of media companies, had spotted Morin's Internet activity. NetPD
software observed an Incubus song, "Wish You Were Here," which
was being downloaded from Morin's computer. Morin said he was unaware
that his computer was serving the song up to other Internet users.
In an email to CIS, NetPD invoked the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act, a 1998 law that has often been invoked in music sharing
and DVD copy protection disputes. "We request that you remove the
site or delete the infringing sound files," NetPD wrote, " or
that you disable access to this site or the infringing files being offered
via your system."
A legal document signed last spring designated Bowdoin as
an online service provider (OSP) in the context of the DMCA. Under that
law, OSPs have specific obligations to prevent copyright infringement
when they are appropriately notified of it.
Charles Banks, associate director for network and operations
at CIS, said that Bowdoin "is not in search of, or really have interest
in what people do on their personal machines. We are not actively pursuing
Throughout September and October, six more students were
singled out by
Another student said that four days passed before she was
contacted by Banks, who explained to her what had happened: NetPD noticed
that her computer was sharing a specific Michael Jackson song via Aimster,
a file-sharing program that uses the popular AOL Instant Messenger network.
"I will never download music ever again," she said.
Banks said, "There was no specific regimen of steps
in place to deal with this particular issue," which accounted for
the lag time between CIS's legally required action and notification of
students. The deans involved and the IT committee will agree on and disseminate
guidelines for students concerned about copyright infringement issues
"within a week," Banks said.
The policy discussions, which are underway in deans' offices,
are now putting CIS's 'takedown' policies temporarily on hold. "Until
this policy is rattled out," Banks said, "we're not taking folks
off the Net."
The DMCA directs OSPs to remove offending material "expeditiously",
but does not require immediate action. The law allows OSPs to act within
two weeks in order to be able to "putback" user access, once
the materials have been removed.
CIS has taken advantage of that two-week window to restore
Internet access as soon as possible to the users who were deprived of
it. "We certainly do not want to disrupt academic pursuits,"
said Banks, "but we are bound by federal law to take some kind of
Many students said Bowdoin's own current computer use policies
were not mentioned in discussions with CIS and deans about the copyright
violations. The Information Technology Use Policy, adapted in June 2001,
states, "Users must comply with all copyright, trademark, and intellectual
property laws," but does not specifically mention file sharing. The
Copyright Policy, also adopted this summer, declares, "As defined
in the DMCA, the College will apply 'take down' procedures or block access
to materials that are claimed to be in violation of copyright and are
The Copyright Policy is online at http://academic.bowdoin.edu/copyright/index.shtml.
John Meyers '02 said that the Student Computing Committee
has discussed the NetPD reports at two meetings and concluded, "A
lot of people weren't aware of the DMCA and the issues around it."
His concerns were echoed by first year Heather Wish, who temporarily lost
her Internet access a week ago after downloading the same Incubus song
that Morin did. "I feel that the school should tell you about it,"
Wish said. "I had no idea." Meyers said the SCC was bringing
its input to the deans and the IT committee and will distribute a letter
about the issue "as soon as possible".