Despite prohibition, Eli file-sharing persists

Despite the University’s official policy against file-sharing, Yalies frustrated about missing their favorite TV shows are willing to take their chances.

Although lawsuits were lodged against students at Harvard and Princeton Universities last year, many Yalies said they think illegal file-sharing remains as prevalent on campus as it has always been. Yale Information Technology Service’s method of enforcement, some said, leaves students unfazed about the consequences of being caught.

A student listens to music files on his laptop. Despite recent crackdowns, many students continue to share files illegally.
Christopher Young
A student listens to music files on his laptop. Despite recent crackdowns, many students continue to share files illegally.

Chief Information Officer Philip Long said Internet users must follow the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits file-sharing in almost all its uses. Programs such as iTunes provide a healthy legal alternative, he said.

“Students, faculty and staff need to abide by the law,” he said. “There are a whole set of commercial services available at Yale.”

Although Long said he was not aware of any file sharing lawsuits against Yale students, ITS makes an effort to follow up on complaints about illegal file sharing in a manner that stresses education about the policy.

When ITS receives a complaint about filesharing, Long said, the source of the material is contacted and the individual is expected to remove the files. Statistics on file-sharing are not available at Yale, Long said, because ITS does not actively monitor network activity in a way would provide information about file-sharing among students.

Many students said that they were unclear about what Yale’s official policy towards file-sharing is and the extent to which it is enforced by ITS.

Andrew Chittenden ’09 said that though he does not share media over the Internet, he was not clear about whether or not a University-wide policy on the subject even existed. Several other students said they had no knowledge of what is considered to be appropriate use of Yale’s Internet services.

Others said they were aware that file-sharing for entertainment is generally considered illegal, but that the practice is promoted among students because ITS does not actively monitor them.

“I think, explicitly speaking, Yale has a policy that we’re not allowed to illegally download music,” Danny Mindlin ’08 said. “[But] I download a significant number of files, and I don’t think anyone’s looking.”

Computing assistants helping students with technology issues follow a policy similar to ITS’ in that they do not actively look for illegal files, Manager of Student Computing Support Minh Vuong said. But when CAs working on computers discover illegal files, he said, they are instructed not to back them up and instead only back up media files that are personal recordings or legally purchased. CAs are also instructed not to help install peer-to-peer software, he said.

Despite some Yale students’ sentiment that University does not concern itself with their file-sharing habits, some have been warned against the practice. Lisa Shull ’09 received a cease and desist letter for using a file-sharing program, and was instructed to take her music off the network and sign a letter stating that she had complied. The letter threatened her Internet access if she did not cooperate, she said.

But a warning from the University was not enough to cause Shull to change her file-sharing habits.

“It seemed kind of arbitrary,” she said. “Now I try not to be connected to the network for a long period of time to make sure that I [don’t] get caught again.”

Some students expressed contentment with the way Yale enforces its file-sharing policy.

“As far as Yale’s specific policies are concerned, I know and am pleased that network administrators are more concerned with excessively voluminous downloading [rather than isolated cases],” Chris Wihlidal ’09 said.

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