Two Students Caught By RIAA; School Focuses on Discipline for Piracy Felonies

Over the course of the past few months, the Phillips Academy administration has become aware of increased student piracy of copyrighted materials taking place on the campus network. This academic year, two student-owned computers on campus have been cited by the Recording Industry Association of America for illegal sharing of music on popular peer-to-peer networks like Limewire and Morpheus. According to the Blue Book, any on-campus Internet user who downloads or shares copyrighted materials violates the Acceptable Use Policy. Breaking the AUP is considered a major rule infraction. The two students identified by the RIAA for copyright infringement were brought before a Disciplinary Committee. After thorough discussion among the cluster deans, the students’ parents and the accused students, the students were issued Warnings. Though the two students were aware that sharing copyrighted material is illegal, faculty and parents of many students are less knowledgeable about the topic of copyright violation. Marlys Edwards, Dean of Students and Residential Life, and the five Cluster Deans sent a letter regarding music piracy to students via e-mail and to parents enclosed with fall trimester grades in an attempt to educate parents and students about the consequences of participating in illegal file-sharing. Through media sources and word-of-mouth, most students are conscious of the legality surrounding file-sharing. However, Ms. Edwards said, “Many students still believe file-sharing to be an anonymously committed, victimless crime. Through increased education we hope to dispel this false notion.” The RIAA choose not to bring lawsuits against the students, but required that Phillips Academy intervene with the students’ illegal usage of the network and recommended the Academy take steps to prevent additional infringements of copyright laws. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed by Congress in 2000, ensures respect of copyrights in an era where a wide range of materials can be transferred with just a click of a button. The act also enables copyright holders to take legal action against those who infringe upon their copyrights. Since 2003, 17,587 lawsuits have been filed against file-sharers under the DMCA. The typical settlement in these civil disputes ranges from $3000 to $4000. According to the deans’ letter, discipline for illegal file-sharers will be more severe in the 2007-2008 school year. Any students identified by the RIAA for violating copyrights will be placed on probation and may face dismissal or suspension. Ms. Edwards said, “It’s important that students know downloading music files from the internet is theft and [the school] will consider it as such.” The Academy identifies copyright infringers by RIAA notification and has no plans to monitor network activitåy of individuals. “The school does not play ‘big brother’ and never will seek out students without RIAA request,” Ms. Edwards assured students. With two positive file-sharing identifications on campus, Ms. Edwards believes the RIAA will watch the school more closely. She advised students against downloading music by saying, “Sharing copyrighted materials is a felony and a felony record is damage to a student’s reputation that will never be erased.” Problems with irresponsible use of the Internet by students have existed since students first accessed it on campus. Starting in 1996, Internet access was made available in computers labs. With this relatively new use of technology, the school drafted and introduced the AUP to ensure proper use of school’s Internet access.