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University Computing Services

This week's topic is peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. It's been in the media a lot recently, and unfortunately there's a lot of misunderstanding about it, and about WOU's policies towards it.

What is peer-to-peer file sharing?

Every computer running a P2P file sharing program (such as LimeWire, BitTorrent, or iMesh) acts as a server so others using the same program can download files from it. It also lets the user search for and download files being shared by other computers running the same software. This is a benefit when legal files are being shared, since there doesn't have to be an expensive central server that everybody downloads from. But if the shared files are illegal, this is a drawback, because there is no single source to shut down.

Is P2P file sharing bad?

There has been a lot of hype in the media about P2P file sharing being bad. It's not so simple, though; it's only wrong when you share stuff that you don't have the rights to. We do not ban P2P software on campus, because there are legitimate uses for it; think of it like owning a gun. Guns are not banned simply because people might use them to commit crimes; only the crimes themselves are banned. The entertainment industry is very much against P2P file sharing, because as copyright holders, they are the main victims of illegally sharing files. However, musicians and actors are also hurt by illegal sharing; every album or movie that is illegally downloaded instead of bought means fewer royalties for them. On the other hand, many amateur musicians embrace P2P file sharing; by releasing their songs to be legally shared, they hope to gain popularity. Some software companies also make use of P2P to share free or trial versions of their products, so they don't have to maintain expensive centralized servers.

How do I know if I'm allowed to download or share something?

If you created the file yourself and have not sold the rights to it, it belongs to you and you can share it as much as you want. If a file is in the public domain, or the owner has given clear permission to share it, it is also OK. But if you cannot find any legitimate notice that a file is OK to share, then you should not download it or share it with others, because that would be stealing.

Why is UCS concerned about P2P file sharing?

We care about file sharing for two main reasons: bandwidth and legality. Since p2p programs are mostly used for music and video, which have large file sizes, they tend to take up more than their share of our Internet bandwidth. If people all over the world are downloading the latest blockbuster movie from a computer in our residence halls, that adds up to a lot of traffic, and other people on campus may have trouble doing legitimate academic work. This is true whether or not the files being shared are legal or illegal.

Why does UCS care about the legality of file sharing? Isn't that solely the responsibility of the person sharing the files?

When copyrighted files are shared from a computer on campus, the owner of the copyright usually can't identify who owns that computer. But they can easily discover that it is coming from someplace on our campus, so they often come to us with their complaints. According to the law, if we have been warned of illegal file sharing on our network, we are liable for criminal charges if we don't take action. These complaints average about once a month, but sometimes they come in groups; in one single day last year, we received complaints about ten different people illegally sharing files. The rate is increasing each year.

What does UCS do when you get a complaint?

Using our internal records, we are usually able to trace the owner of the computer where the files were being shared. If that person is in the Residence Halls, they will lose their Internet access for ninety days, and will be removed from the halls entirely on the second proven offense. If you have any questions or complaints about this policy, please contact Residential computing at (503)838-9201.

I was running LimeWire and Residential Computing uninstalled it when I took my computer in for help! Why is that?

LimeWire is one of the most popular P2P programs currently out there. Unfortunately, we have frequently seen it install spyware and adware. We have also seen it continue to run even after supposedly being uninstalled. When we see LimeWire on a computer, it will be deleted. Not all P2P file sharing programs include spyware, though; we won't automatically install them unless we get confirmation that they are infecting your computer with bad stuff.

Contact

University Computing Services 503-838-8154 | or e-mail: webmaster@wou.edu

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