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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Computing ramps up illegal-song warnings

Ellen Young, the manager of Consulting Services at Computer Services, used to e-mail one student per day on behalf of the Recording Industry Association of America, asking them to remove illegally downloaded material from their computers. More recently, however, Young's average has climbed to sending five to 10 of these e-mails daily, an influx she attributes to the intensification of the RIAA's pursuit of copyright infringements.

The subject line of the e-mail reads "Copyright Infringement Complaint," and the body explains that the student must immediately delete all copyrighted material from his or her computer. If students fail to comply, their IP addresses will be blocked, and they will be unable to access the Dartmouth network.

A male member of the class of 2010, who wished to remain anonymous as the RIAA currently only knows his IP address and not his name, was surprised to receive an e-mail of this nature from the College.

"I almost deleted it. I just saw the title, and I thought it was one of those annoying junk e-mails," he said. "I read it, and I was like, 'oh wow, this is legit.'"

According to Young, the RIAA identifies IP addresses of copyright infringers and sends these addresses to the College. It then becomes Dartmouth's responsibility to determine the name of the student and inform them of their violations. The only situation in which the association will demand a student's name and address is in the case of a subpoena.

Young explained that there are different levels of punishment that students can receive. The first level is a warning, asking students to immediately delete their copyrighted material and illegal programs. The second level is an "early settlement letter" that allows students to avert a lawsuit by paying a fine. The toughest level of punishment is a subpoena, which can be sent to any student with copyrighted material on his or her computer.

"It's not 'you got a warning and you didn't stop, so now you're being sued.' Sometimes [the RIAA] goes right for suing people," Young said. "Some of the people at Dartmouth who they've sued have had thousands of songs and other people have had 100."

The College also takes steps beyond sending e-mails to ensure that the RIAA does not identify repeat offenders. Young asks students to respond to her e-mails once they follow the directions to confirm that offending files are deleted. If the College receives a second complaint about a student, the student must take their laptop to the computer help desk where a professional will delete the illegal material. In the case of a third notice, the student must have a conversation with a dean. According to Young, only one student has had to have such a meeting.

"They're putting Dartmouth at risk because Dartmouth may have to assume the liability if we don't get a student to stop," Young said.

The student who wished to remain anonymous said that approximately half of his 25 gigabytes of music had been illegally downloaded. He said he contacted Young to gain an understanding of the RIAA's intentions after he received the e-mail. He learned that his IP address had been identified because of his use of BitTorrent, a file-sharing program that allows users to download entire CDs in one sitting. Torrent also uploads files from users' computers, which enables the RIAA to identify the IP addresses of where the files originated. After receiving this explanation, the student deleted his file-sharing programs but not the actual music that he had downloaded.

"It's very sneaky," he said. "It's probably the only way that the music industry can stop people from doing this, but it definitely is a scare tactic. It makes me think twice before doing it."

Nevertheless, Young emphasized the importance of compliance with the RIAA, citing potential financial strains as an incentive for following her instructions.

"I've had conversations with parents about 'oh my god, how am I going to pay this?'" she said. "My message to the students is: you're putting yourself at risk if you continue to do this because [the RIAA] knows about you."