College students across the United States may face penalties as harsh as expulsion for engaging in illegal peer-to-peer file sharing on university networks.

The University of Central Arkansas board policy No. 412 now gives the school the appropriate mechanisms to discipline those who violate the copyright law, including suspension or expulsion of students, or the termination of employment of faculty and staff.

Policies that went into effect July 1 in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 required the university to affirmatively combat illegal file sharing.

According to the university’s website, final regulations specify “that an institution must have developed and implemented written plans to effectively combat unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material and that the institution will offer alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property.”

According to Terry Brewer, interim director of IT at UCA, the university has employed packet shaping technology that he described as an accelerator on a vehicle.

“Think of it like a throttle or an accelerator on a car. You can slow certain packets down. It’s Internet traffic shaping that controls the flow of data in and out of different network portals. Peer-to-peer uses its own portal and we can limit that traffic,” Brewer said.

This technology means that illegal file sharing among the university’s network will slow to a crawl.

All file sharing cannot be cut, Brewer said, since not all file sharing is illegal.

“Faculty collaborate with other faculty members and students, too,” Brewer said.
According to Brewer, a peer-to-peer file sharing committee has been meeting to create policy on the issue.

Jack Gillean, vice president for administration at UCA, said the university was once among the worst of offenders in a national ranking system.

“Apparently at one time, our students were among the worst offenders nationally. We had a system where we could not identify who the end user or offender was. Even though we got (infringement notices) we couldn’t do anything about them,” Gillean said.

Infringement notices are sent out when the location of a network engaging in copyright infringement is tracked by independent companies such as Sony or the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade organization that works to protect the rights of recording artists and record labels.

Gillean said he had two infringement notices in his e-mail’s inbox Monday morning.

Federal copyright laws include both civil and criminal penalties. Civil copyright infringement violations may include damages paid not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work infringed. Criminal penalties may include damages up to $150,000 per work infringed. These violations may result in imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense, according to a Dear Colleague Letter to colleges and universities, sent by the Department of Higher Education.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)