Housing sends warning letters to file sharers

University Housing issued letters Dec. 1 to certain Northern Kentucky University students believed to be illegally downloading copyrighted material in their dorm rooms.

The letters, signed by Director of University Housing Matt Brown, were issued in response to a Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) warning, which sited the IP addresses of six NKU students it said were participating in file sharing.

Gary Pratt, associate provost for Information and Technology, said IT has identified the IP addresses of students who were named by the RIAA complaint and shut off their Internet access.

“We knocked off the addresses so they couldn’t access the network,” Pratt said, “and when they respond back, we go through the verification and help them clean off their system.”

The letter informed the students that they have five working days to contact IT and set up a time to meet with a technician. The technician will locate their IP and MAC addresses, inform them how to delete their illegal files and potentially ban them from file-sharing software.

“This is a serious legal matter,” Brown said in the letter, “and I advise (students) to cooperate fully with the university.”

Brown said he was just doing some “footwork” for IT and doesn’t know why the number of letters sent out was so large when the six offenders identified by the RIAA have already been eliminated from the network.

“(IT) identified what rooms they wanted the letters to go to,” Brown said. “Sometimes they can identify the rooms, but often times they can’t identify which student or which computer … If there is one computer and four students in the room they don’t know which computer it is. So that’s why more students got included.”

According to Brown, the intention of the letter was to ensure students would call IT so they could get the appropriate information from students to identify which computer belongs to which student.

“My opinion is that the RIAA kind of strong-arms campuses into acting as an arm of the RIAA to enforce this law, that they are not able to enforce themselves,” Brown said. “They threaten universities with legal action; they threatened to sue NKU. They are culpable if they don’t take some kind of action.

“So what they do is they have to send out a letter to any student involved or any room that might be involved because they are scared too. IT is scared; they don’t want to get sued for not doing anything.

“They get these big scary letters from the RIAA … telling them that students using your network are using this kind of activity and if you don’t make it stop you can be held legally responsible.”

Brown said his office will work directly with IT to identify student violators and determine appropriate sanctions.

“It’s an odd situation,” Brown said. “This isn’t like a student caught breaking a policy like alcohol consumption or noise violation, where our staff goes and confronts it.

“We often don’t have the technical expertise to verify student illegal network activity so we have to rely on IT to provide us with information.”

Pratt said he doesn’t expect any lawsuits to come from the six file sharers because NKU plays a very minor part in the file-sharing community.

“Those who get the suits have received multiple sets of notifications – over and over and over again – and either didn’t respond or had a majority of issues,” Pratt said. “We had a handful of the actual complaints, and we dealt with it immediately. My assumption is they don’t sue first and ask questions later.

“They notify you, say you better deal with it, and if you don’t follow along and do something about it, they follow up and bring up a suit after the fact.”

Brown said because of the letters many students would probably stop all illegal actions.