Pullman, WASH. Many students at Washington State University may not remember signing forms promising fair conduct on the Internet when they registered but they will still be held accountable for any illegal conduct.
“When you sign your student agreement, you make certain claims about how you’re going to act on university Internet but there’s a certain gray area,” said Jeff Snell, an information technology administrator at WSU.
“Signing those forms states that you will not doing anything illegal and will use the tools provided appropriately.”
One of the main issues surrounding university provided Internet access is the prevalence of file-sharing sites and the propensity of college students to use them for illegal gains and non-academic purposes.
Students downloading copyrighted media such as movies or games without purchasing them not only put themselves at risk for serious lawsuits but also the university.
“The university can potentially be held liable for illegal actions of students online and that’s why we need to enforce the rules,” said Deborah Baker, associate director at WSU’s Office of Student Standards and Accountability.
Snell said that one of the challenges of his job is trying to differentiate between what’s legal and illegal when it comes to downloading and file sharing on the university network.
“They have the idea that if they start blocking sites, they’re going to have to keep blocking every new one that pops up and becomes and issue with a lawsuit,” said Snell.
“I use some file sharing sites for legitimate things so its tough to determine the validity when these sites appear on the network and the university would not want to take away tools from their educators or their students.”
According to WSU Services New Media and Communication Director Casey Hanson, it is the responsibility and in the best interest of all WSU faculty, staff and students to comply with University policies and procedures regarding computer and network usage.
“If a student is caught illegally downloading, IT administrators can suspend student network usage on any computer until they review and comply with federal laws and university policies,” said Hanson.
“Repeat offenders will be forced to report to the student conduct officials and go through their program of accountability.”
Baker said she typically does not see many repeat offenders and when she does, they learn the lesson after complying with her office’s online accountability program.
“We’ll have them attend a mandatory course and write a research paper about why the laws are there and prompt them to educate themselves on why things are the way they are,” said Baker.
“When I first started working here in 2010, they were a lot more repeat offenders than there is now so I think we’ve cracked down on it.”
According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), “from 2004 through 2009 alone, approximately 30 billion songs were illegally downloaded on file-sharing networks according.”
The RIAA’s website states that in the decade since peer-to-peer (p2p) file-sharing site Napster emerged in 1999, music sales in the U.S. have dropped 47 percent, from $14.6 billion to $7.7 billion.
These numbers only relate to a small scope of the problem and do not reflect the millions of dollars large corporations such as the RIAA are losing annually when people obtain movies, television shows, and games through illegal means.
File sharing sites can be used to share and download any multi-media content.
Senior Director of Networking and Chief Information Security Officer Thomas Ambrosi said that with any non-academic computer use, there is a greater risk for malware infection on the network, often times from the sharing of files.
“Like many universities, WSU does have instances that occur and takes them very seriously,” said Ambrosi.
Unfortunately, Ambrosi said that Informative Services would not discuss past or on-going investigations relating to legal matters surrounding illegal downloading.
Neil Roberts, a junior at WSU, thinks that the university’s policies revolving around what students are doing on the Internet are lenient.
“As far as I know, the school does not particularly care too much about it,” said Roberts.
“I’ve received a warning in my Zzusis account at least once since I’ve been here but I have no idea what it was for and nothing happened.”
Snell thinks the public will only know of instances regarding illegal downloading if large-scale lawsuits are filed.
“How big of an issue it is and whether or not its going to get WSU in the media by determining exposure is a common factor for large-scale organizations in situations like this,” said Snell.
“Is this all of a sudden going to blow up and appear on the front page of the New York Times that WSU is allowing all these students to download copyrighted materials?”
Jeff Snell- WSU Information Technology Administrator
Deborah Baker- Associate Director at WSU Student Conduct
Casey Hanson- Communications Director at WSU Services
Thomas Ambrosi- Senior Director of Networking and CISO
Neil Roberts- WSU Student
Attached Records Request:
December 10, 2013
WSU Office of Student Standards and Accountability
PO BOX 641062 Lighty 260
Pullman, WA 99162-1052
Dear Mr. Ambrosi ,
Pursuant to the state open records law, Wash. Rev. Code Secs. 42.56.001 to 42.56.904 , I write to request access to and a copy of records of Washington State University students who have been caught downloading illegally, sharing files, and other Internet crimes. . If your agency does not maintain these public records, please let me know who does and include the proper custodian’s name and address.
I agree to pay any reasonable copying and postage fees of not more than $0.00. If the cost would be greater than this amount, please notify me. Please provide a receipt indicating the charges for each document.
As provided by the open records law, I will expect your response within five (5) business days. See Wash. Rev. Code Sec. 42.56.520.
If you choose to deny this request, please provide a written explanation for the denial including a reference to the specific statutory exemption(s) upon which you rely. Also, please provide all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material.
Please be advised that I am prepared to pursue whatever legal remedy necessary to obtain access to the requested records. I would note that violation of the open records law can result in a fine � payable to me � of up to $100 for each day that I am denied access. Litigation costs, including reasonable attorney fees, may also be awarded. See Wash. Rev. Code Sec. 42.56.550(4).
Thank you for your assistance.
Zack M Menchel
710 SE Chinook Dr.
Pullman, WA 99163