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Severe consequences for media pirating on UWRF campus

December 4, 2008

In a campus and nationwide effort, people who pirate media over the Internet are being targeted by the FBI, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

According to FredNet Senior Systems Administrator Paul Bladl, universities across the country are being targeted, and students caught illegally downloading media at UW-River Falls face steep ramifications.

“We [at UWRF] don’t actually seek out students pirating music,” he said. “Whoever owns the media does.”

Bladl explained that organizations that own media send letters to the University telling them which IP addresses are involved in pirating. An IP address is a unique “number” assigned to a certain computer attached to the campus network.

The University is then able to trace the IP addresses back to the student associated with them and warn them that what they are doing is illegal.

Bladl also noted that the first time a student is caught pirating media, a warning letter is sent to them. He estimates that about 30-40 letters have been sent to UWRF students so far this semester, which is “on the low end” compared to national figures.

The second time a student is caught they are stripped of on campus wired and wireless Internet privileges for 30 days. The third time being caught means no wired or wireless Internet access for the rest of their collegiate career at UWRF.

Previous to Bladl handling pirating on campus, Computer Support Services Manager Mary-Alice Muraski was in charge for a year. She said she sent out four letters to students during that period, and noticed an increasing number of students downloading media through their wireless Internet.

“When we’re notified by the RIAA and MPAA, they simply tell us that they have tracked down media that has been shared using our Internet,” she said. “They send us a timestamp of when it happened and the IP address it was downloaded using, and then we look up the IP address and see what student and computer it is connected to.”

Muraski also said that the University is able to track pirating through wireless Internet as well because students must log in with their Falcon account. Thus, officials know who is pirating media and when it is taking place.

A UWRF senior who wishes to remain anonymous said he received a letter from the RIAA regarding pirating music last spring.

“The letter was forwarded to me as a response to a letter the University received from the RIAA regarding a violation,” he said in an e-mail interview. “It basically said that my IP address had been found to be downloading music from some server.”

The student said he wanted to make it clear that the letter he received was not just a warning letter from the RIAA that the University’s policy refers to, but was a letter sent to him from the RIAA.

“This letter was an actual notice that [a] possible lawsuit could be initiated,” he said. “So it is important to understand that the UWRF policy only refers to [a] ‘cease and desist’ letter from the RIAA, but my letter was not a ‘cease and desist’ letter—it was much more serious.”

Muraski said that the intent of the University’s letters to students is to give them more information on what could happen to them, and that the University does not share any information with the RIAA or MPAA unless they are requested to through a subpoena. 

“Our letter informs and educates as to what you should be doing to educate yourself on this issue,” she said. “There are many resources here on campus to help, including FredNet which will talk to students if they have any questions on file sharing.”

In the case of the UWRF senior, he said he thought he would be warned before more severe action was taken.

“An individual may not be warned before more serious action is taken against them,” he said. “After receiving the letter and speaking with a person on campus, I researched the RIAA Web site and found out that this letter was, in essence, a settlement letter.”

The student ended up settling with the RIAA out of court for “a considerable amount of money.” He said he no longer believes in pirating media, and that “downloading music is not worth having to pay a fine.”

According to the RIAA Web site, “global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year, 71,060 U.S. lost jobs, a loss of $2.7 billion in worker’s earnings and a loss of $442 million in tax revenues.”

The organization’s Web site also states that the goal of the RIAA’s anti-piracy efforts is to “protect the ability of the recording industry to invest in new bands and new music and, in the digital space, to give legal online services a chance to flourish.”

Muraski said that there are smarter, more ethical ways to obtain music and movies.

“iTunes is far cheaper than the several thousand dollar fines students can face if they get caught,” Muraski said.

Bladl said he agreed and said there are other campus resources that can help rid computers of piracy software.

“My advice would be to just not illegally download or share media,” he said. “iTunes, Amazon.com and MySpace are good alternatives. And for students living on campus, FredNet can help set up computers and eliminate file sharing software for free.”