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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Students accused of downloading illegal files on campus

When Dominic Gutierrez, junior mechanical engineering major, opened his e-mail two weeks ago, he was more than surprised to find a message saying his Internet was being turned off.

According to campus copyright officials, Gutierrez’s IP address hosted and shared the audio file, “My Worlds” by Justin Bieber on April 21, illegally using BitTorrents. Since Gutierrez lives in the Pierce Co-op on campus, his Internet was effectively revoked both at school and at home. And because this was Gutierrez’s second offense, he was permanently banned from the network.

Guitierrez received notification from Jan Carmikle, UC Davis intellectual property officer with Innovation Access. In an e-mail, she said she received a valid notification alleging that Guitierrez’s IP address was responsible for copyright infringement.

“It was very frustrating,” he said. “It was right in the middle of midterms and I needed to use the Internet. Even more frustrating was that they just assumed I had done it.”

Under law, the university is required to remove material that infringes copyrights. Innovation Access handles this by shutting down the user’s network.

Since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was implemented in 1998, UC Davis has experienced over 3,700 notifications of violations. The worst year thus far was in 2006-07, which had over 700 infringements. This year, however, there have already been over 600 violations. More than half of these violations are for illegally downloading movies and television shows, Carmikle said.

Innovation Access doesn’t investigate who infringes copyright law.

“For First Amendment reasons, we do not go through e-mails or files ourselves. That would be policing and breaching rights to privacy,” Carmikle said.

Instead, copyright owners send notifications to Innovation Access with the IP address, date and time of the violation. Innovation Access then finds who matches the IP address. This whole process can take an hour per violation.

“These are ridiculously expensive for us to do,” Carmikle said. “People are downloading movies or worse, songs they could get off of iTunes for 99 cents. We’re in the middle of a budget crisis and we’re wasting 700 hours of paid time on 99 cent songs.”

But for Gutierrez’s case, an hour of Innovation Access’s time was wasted because of a false accusation.

Gutierrez sent an e-mail to SJA, detailing his innocence and urging director Donald Dudley to turn his Internet back on. Dudley agreed to investigate the matter, and it took two days before Gutierrez had access again.

In an e-mail interview, Dudley said SJA’s involvement only comes when answering questions about such violations.

“If students have questions about the network disconnection due to a DMCA notice, SJA encourages students to discuss the matter with us,” Dudley said. “Almost always, SJA is able to clarify with the student what led to the infringing activity and the subsequent notice. If an error is detected, then it is corrected. Time stamp mistakes do occur, but very infrequently.”

Carmikle also admitted that mistakes can occur, but very infrequently.

“Since it’s all automated, it’s possible for there to be a mistake,” Carmikle said. “Someone might have mistyped the IP address. But this is so rare. I’ve been doing this since 1998, and I could probably count the mistakes on one hand.”

But even just within the Pierce Co-op, Gutierrez isn’t the only student to claim to have had their Internet revoked unjustly this year. Morgan Woolf, a senior community and regional development major, was restricted access during finals this past fall quarter. Woolf could not access the Internet for two weeks because it was his first violation.

“I got an e-mail saying I downloaded an audio version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the movie,” Woolf said. “Not an audio book, the actual audio from the movie – something no one would ever download.”

ANDY VERDEROSA and JANELLE BITKER can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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