29 Oct File Swapping: Download at your own Risk
In recent months, entertainment companies have hit universities and colleges across the country, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with complaints documenting alleged copyright infringement of both movies and music over their networks.
Last February, Universal Studios sent several cease-and-desist notices to the Universirty of Wisconsin- Madison concerning 130 computers on campus that apparently were hosting movie downloads with content that belonged to the company. School officials used a list of Internet addresses that the studio provided, matched them to the students on the network, and relayed the notices to the students.
That was not an isolated incident. Technology Communications Director Brian Rust said the university receives about a dozen alerts a week from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) about computers suspected of file swapping. The cease-and-desist orders are passed along to the computer users, usually students living in university housing.
The most popular free file-sharing programs today include Aimster, Kazaa, Morpheus, BearShare, and Grokster. These and other file-sharing programs enable users to obtain music, movies, videos, and other files and shares them with others. Each computer with the file-sharing program belongs to the network, essentially becoming a file server.
“Sharing is the default setting on these programs,” says Kim Milford, head of the security group for DoIT (Division of Information Technology). “When you use the program, you could be making your own computer’s music and video files available for download by others unless you change the default setting. And, if you have not disabled sharing, you may be illegally distributing that music file.”
UW-Madison File-Sharing Policy
The use of the network is a shared resource on campus and falls under the Guidelines for Appropriate Use of University IT Resources. One guideline specifies that the university acknowledges that the use of IT resources is a natural part of the day-to-day learning and work of all members of the university community, and incidental personal use is tolerated.
Rust said the school does not want to outlaw file sharing “because some of it is legitimate.” For example, students in university’s music school can listen to certain music files that they have been granted permission to use “within the context of their course work,” Rust said. “You can’t tell the difference between those and any others,” he said.
With the completion of the hardware upgrade project in the summer of 2002, all of the University’s residence halls now have 100-megabit data connections inside the buildings. Currently, ResNet (Residence Halls Network) has a 60-megabit pipe to the campus network and Internet. For normal usage such as web browsing and e-mail, this is more than enough to meet the needs of network and provide a broadband-type connection, similar to a cable modem or DSL line. However, with the proliferation of file-sharing programs, ResNet has taken steps to limit the excessive bandwidth demands caused by this type of traffic.
In an effort to more fairly distribute the University’s limited bandwidth, ResNet installed a Packeteer PacketShaper 8500 in Spring 2003. The PacketShaper is a piece of hardware installed on the ResNet network that shapes or limits different types of identifiable network traffic. The device is currently configured to ensure there is bandwidth available for services such as web browsing and e-mail. Once the bandwidth demands have been met for legitimate services, the remaining bandwidth can be used for file-sharing programs.
“File-sharing packets have a certain profile on the network, and we have the ability to ratchet down access for that type of file,” said Rust. He added that by limiting how much of the network that file sharing can consume, the school keeps the system reliable for academic purposes without blocking certain services.
University students living on campus have 60 megabits of network bandwidth available, with packet-shaping technology limiting file-sharing programs to less than 20 megabits. Last year the students on campus had 40 megabits of bandwidth available, without the packet-shaping technology.
Jamie Lyn Hofmeister is a freelance technology writer and regular contributor to the Wisconsin Technology Network. She can be reached at email@example.com.