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Students warned of copyright issues, possible subpoenas, as file sharing enforcement increases

- This fall, the University of California, Berkeley, campus is stepping up education and enforcement efforts regarding policies about one of students' most popular pastimes - uploading and downloading music, videos and software through the Internet.

Now that the entertainment industry is threatening lawsuits against those sharing copyrighted material, students have a lot more to lose.

"We're telling students that we know lots of people are sharing copyrighted files, we know it's easy, but it's against the law, and you might suffer sanctions," said Dedra Chamberlin, UC Berkeley manager of residential computing.

"(Sharing copyrighted material without permission) is an illegal act, and we don't condone it, and we do not find it acceptable," emphasized UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl during an Aug. 20 news briefing. "Whenever it's called to our attention, we'll do whatever we can to stop it."

"In addition to federal and state copyright laws, students, staff and faculty must recognize that there are University of California and UC Berkeley policies against violating statutes that protect copyrighted materials," added Jack McCredie, the campus's associate vice chancellor for information systems and technology. "It is a serious offense to steal intellectual property."

Students in residence halls who wants a free Internet connection must attend an orientation session, Cal Connect, during Welcome Week, and this year the emphasis is on peer-to-peer file sharing. Staff will talk about the legal aspects of file sharing, the limitations the university is putting on the amount of Internet traffic students can send and receive - including uploading and downloading music and video files - and how to secure a computer so it can't be taken over by outside hackers. Residence hall directors and resident assistants, too, are being given training in policies and enforcement.

The campus is also upping enforcement of file sharing policies that have been in place for the past two years. Last year, students who exceeded the 5-gigabyte-per-week limit on uploading and downloading files through such programs as Napster, KaZaA or Gnutella received three warnings before a hearing was held to determine whether to cut off Internet access. This year, Internet connections will be cut after a second offense and remain off until the student has answered questions about the volume of Internet traffic on his or her computer.

"We are the Internet service provider for students, so we don't expect only academic uses of the Internet," Chamberlin said, noting that the 5-gigabytes-per-week limit is the equivalent of downloading four movies, 200 songs and about 1,000 e-mail messages. "There are legitimate reasons for sharing files, but we want students to share files in a responsible way."

The campus has been getting take-down notices from the movie, record and software industry for about three years - demands that a specific computer, identified only by its IP number, stop sharing files. Last year, residential computing received 163 take-down notices - twice the number received the previous academic year and 16 times the number in 2000-01.

The entertainment industry had been satisfied with the university tracking down students uploading files and obtaining written confirmation that the illegal files had been deleted from their computer, plus a written promise not to share such files again. Residential computing had hired an additional student worker to handle these ballooning requests. Seven students were hit with two take-down requests, but no one suffered the possible consequence of a third copyright offense - permanent loss of Internet access and use of campus computing labs.

Now, though, the courts have said the entertainment industry can subpoena to obtain student names. So far, the only subpoena UC Berkeley has received for illegal uploading arrived early this month, directed at an administrative computer, not a student. It turned out that a remote server had been hacked. Chamberlin is doing everything possible to make sure no subpoenas arrive for students in the residence halls.

"We feel we shouldn't be a police force for the entertainment industry," Chamberlin said, lamenting the resources that go into tracking down miscreants. "I'd much rather see the entertainment industry find a legitimate way to make money off file sharing instead of trying to make it go away. It's not going to."