“File sharing” may sound like an innocuous term, but on UNC’s campus, it is a violation of the Honor Code.  Students who are caught illegally downloading material from the Internet face serious repercussions. And violations are not always as evident as one might think.

Information Technology Services (ITS) was in the Pit last Wednesday for the “Technology” part of Honor and Integrity Week, which was celebrated last Monday through Friday.  The goal of Honor and Integrity Week was to bring awareness to the Honor Code, which involves both cheating and conduct cases, says Outreach Coordinator Allison Hoover. According to a handout distributed at the event, the goal of “Technology” day was to “find out safe, legal ways to listen to the music you love while also discovering how technology applies to the Honor Code.”

However, during a discussion with Ben Bressman, an information security analyst with ITS, it became evident that violating the University’s technology policy – and the law – may not be so clear-cut. For years, campaigns have been waged against illegally downloading music or pirated movies.  However, file sharing is not always as obvious as illegally downloading a song. It has a much broader definition than many students realize.

Copyright and acceptable use policies create strict guidelines for file sharing.  In other words, “if you don’t have the right to redistribute content, you can’t,” Bressman says. When UNC students download copyright-protected content, it is shared on the Internet – a violation of the law. Copyright-protected content can include an incredibly wide range of media.  Music, movies, pictures and TV shows are often protected by copyright laws, which make it illegal to download them.  Even academic journals can be copyright protected.

Bressman says that students usually get caught downloading something they could have gotten for free. For example, students often download popular TV shows illegally that they could have viewed legally – and for free – on sites such as Hulu.

Illegal file sharing has concrete consequences.  If a copyright holder complains about a file-sharing incident, ITS shuts off the offending student’s network access.  In order to have their network access reinstated, offenders must first finish a quiz and then meet with ITS to discuss the matter.

First offenses occur fairly frequently.  According to Bressman, recently there were 45 first offenses in one week alone.  Although this number is unusually high, it does happen. After a second offense, students must take a quiz, meet with ITS and pay a visit to the Dean of Students Office.  Second offenses are less common, but they happen occasionally. However, the third offense means a painful consequence:  permanently losing network privileges. Bressman says he has yet to see that happen.

It is easy to protect yourself from facing violations of both the Honor Code and the law.  Pay for music or listen to it on YouTube.  Watch TV shows on Hulu or network websites.  Do not distribute academic journals without being granted permission.  And if you are ever unsure of rules regarding downloading or distributing content, read a website’s acceptable use policy or visit http://www.unc.edu/filesharing.

If you take the right steps now, you can avoid a trip to ITS – and possibly having your Internet access shut off for good.

-Georgia Cavanaugh

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