Copyright violations lead to legal troubles for students

Internet pirates have been known to be fined hundreds of dollars for each song or movie that they allegedly downloaded illegally. In addition to the fine, they’ve also had to suffer through lengthy legal battles with the companies whose rights they are accused of violating. At Vassar too, students can face consequences for obtaining copyrighted media for free off the internet.

The college has a policy of preventing media torrenting on campus. While using Peer to Peer (P2P) software, such as the popular client uTorrent, is not in-and-of-itself an offense, it is monitored by Vassar Computing and Information Services (CIS). CIS can track what is being downloaded and sent back and forth across the network on campus. Only the type of data and not the specific content, the CIS website makes a point to say, is ever screened.

When a copyright-holder wishes to take action against internet piraters, a letter is sent to Vassar containing a cease-and-desist order to the student in violation. Unless specifically ordered to through a court subpoena, Vassar withholds the name of the offending student. Also, if the student refuses to cooperate and delete the stolen media from their computer, this could lead to further legal action being taken.

Aaron Hill ’16 said, “I appreciate Vassar’s heuristic approach toward discouraging piracy, because it stays in line with the College’s mentality that students have agency over their decisions, without resorting to limiting net access, which could have consequences on the general student body’s ability to work and study.”

As an email sent by the Dean of Students D.B. Brown to the student body stated, “It doesn’t matter if you downloaded it somewhere else. It doesn’t matter if someone else used your computer to download it.” The email went on to say that simply being in possession of pirated material can result in fines or legal troubles.  Students who are caught with a large amount of stolen media can be fined by the college or given community service. Some students who have been caught pirating data have had to meet with counselors several times and do community service for several weeks as consequences of using torrents.

Anything from movies to music to games to comic book covers is considered copyrighted material and is the intellectual property of someone else.

There is an ongoing debate as to how traditional copyright laws should apply to the Internet and new, digital media. Some people claim that the current laws, which were developed originally for print media, are outdated and are inapplicable to these new forms of media and methods of sharing. They say that pirating can actually be helpful to the creative minds whose work is being downloaded.

As Isaiah Hale ’16 puts it, “While torrenting is illegal, a lot of unknown or indie musicians actually get a lot of exposure when their music is torrented because of the chance that their songs go viral. People who don’t usually torrent will hear about the song from their friends and buy it on iTunes.”

These advocates of piracy will also point out the various gray areas that exist. Whenever there is no company with legal ownership of the rights to a media product it becomes part of the public domain, and it is free for download. Thus, the download of that product does not have much potential to harm someone’s livelihood.

Others still maintain that intellectual property is intellectual property, no matter what medium through which it is delivered. CIS’s P2P Sharing Policy stresses that the U.S. Government still holds that any kind of pirating is a crime.

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