CITES can and will crack down on your torrents

In 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America announced it would stop suing individuals for illegally downloading music after collecting more than 35,000 lawsuits since 2003. To replace its “subpoena, settle or sue” process, the RIAA instead contacts the music sharer’s Internet service provider to enforce disciplinary action.

2008, the Recording Industry Association of America announced it would stop suing individuals for illegally downloading music after collecting more than 35,000 lawsuits since 2003. To replace its “subpoena, settle or sue” process, the RIAA instead contacts the music sharer’s Internet service provider to enforce disciplinary action.

For CITES, the University’s technology services agency, this means receiving up to 100 copyright infringement complaints a month from content industry super houses, with 364 totaled from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31. The complaints encompass any music, television or film file downloads by students, faculty and staff, tracked by file name, size, timestamp and IP address.

Brian Mertz, senior security outreach specialist for CITES, explained how the number of complaints from third parties is enough for CITES to actively engage copyright issues without having to do any tracking of illegal downloading of its own.

“What CITES is basically doing when (the downloading) is in our area is gathering up the information, providing what evidence we can find of that activity and just passing that report on to dean of students — if it’s a student — or to the department if it’s a faculty or staff member,” Mertz said.

Each department then handles the disciplinary action differently. For students living in University Housing, the Internet port in their dorm room is disabled and the student is notified via email, said Kirsten Ruby, assistant director of housing for marketing. 

The student is then required to meet with his or her resident director before the port is enabled again. While most cases are for first offenders, a second offense requires all residents to meet with the assistant director of residential life for community standards and safety programs. On the third offense, the room will no longer have Internet connectivity, Ruby said.

Christine Svoboda, sophomore in LAS, and her roommate were confronted about illegal downloading last year while living in Hopkins Hall.

“The Internet was supposed to only be shut off for a week due to the fact that it was our first transgression, but since it took so long to get a meeting with our RD, it took almost two weeks to get our Internet back,” Svoboda said.

While the situation was resolved without any following offenses, Svoboda is still confused about what happened.

“To be completely honest with you, I have absolutely no idea what I downloaded,” she said. “I have uTorrent on my computer but it was never active at school, and I didn’t use the school’s Internet to download anything like that because it was too slow.”

Many file sharing programs, such as LimeWire or BitTorrent, automatically upload files through the program, Mertz said, so when students are notified of a copyright infringement, that can sometimes be the reason.

While Housing doesn’t differentiate punishment between uploading and downloading files, according to Ruby, the content industry sees them as vastly different offenses.

“If you’re downloading, you’re participating in the problem, but you’re not seen as causing the problem,” Mertz said. But when you’re uploading, “you’re viewed as the source in that situation of the copyright violations.”

Through personal ISPs, copyright infringements in terms of uploading can be a separate federal offense, especially when releasing copyright materials before they’re commercially available. Lawsuits can result in fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars. But through CITES, the content industry usually leaves it up to the University.

“We’ll get some push from content holders to be more punitive, but for the most part they leave it up to us,” Mertz said. “They really expect that initial discipline can be handled by the school.”

While a vast majority of the offenders are students, Mertz said, individual departments have had to deal with a faculty or staff member receiving a copyright complaint. Disciplinary action for first offenders are typically similar to that of a student’s: a warning and possibly some education.

“We can’t get into specifics for HR reasons, but we had one faculty member who had repeat violations and they were actually asked to leave the University because it was such an ongoing problem,” Mertz said.

Throughout last year, Mertz was able to track month to month what specific files CITES was receiving copyright complaints for, and he noticed some specific trends.

“Very rarely is it something that was old. ... But when Kid Cudi came to campus last year, that month — whether it’s students trying to get his music or whether it was the record label knowing that kids would be trying to download his stuff — we saw a spike in violations sent for his album,” Mertz said. “There’s certain shows, like ‘Parks and Rec’ or ‘Community,’ that’s a constant steady stream every month, but other things just come and go.”

Mertz added that CITES “isn’t under the illusion” that these are the only violations taking place on campus. He suspects that the content industry isn’t filing complaints for all downloads, “so clearly there’s file sharing going on that the notices aren’t corresponding to.”

Several factors go into the overall process. Some complaints that are received do not match up with the IP address’s activity for the timestamp given, Mertz said. Differences between torrent downloading and direct downloading might also make the copyright infringement harder to track and identify. 

However, the University still responds to the copyright complaints and does not tolerate the activity. Svodoba thinks the University has set up a good system to handle the situation and should continue to reprimand students who illegally download using the University Housing’s Internet.

“Even though we find other security threats to be a bigger priority, this is something that we still have to do,” Mertz said. “If you’re constantly pressing your luck trying to get stuff for free, you still have the risk of getting caught.”

Sarah can be reached at

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