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Beware file-sharing programs

A Johns Hopkins University student was recently caught sharing an illegal copy of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring via the file-sharing service Kazaa. An agency representing Warner Bros. searched for copies of the film on Kazaa and successfully downloaded a copy from the student.

After verifying that the student was in violation of Warner Bros.’ copyright, the agency contacted Hopkins, informing the university that a computer on its network was involved in an act of piracy. The agency also told Hopkins it is responsible for remedying the problem.

In the past, agencies representing movie studios and record labels have generally pursued legal action against individuals and organizations hosting large servers of pirated material. Users who merely connected to the server to download material were generally overlooked and ignored.

Things have changed. With recent lawsuits against producers of file-sharing software failing to prevent widespread piracy, copyright holders have shifted their tactics. Now, many prefer pursuing legal action against individuals who download and share copyrighted material, with hopes of intimidating other users.

Associate General Counsel Wesley Blakeslee said the university currently receives three to four notifications of copyright violations per week. These numbers are twice those of last year.

While Blakeslee said he knows of no Hopkins students who have yet been sued, students at other schools have incurred fines of up to $150,000 per song or movie, according.

In this particular case, the agency simply informed Hopkins of the violation, rather than pursuing legal action. The student was notified and asked to write a letter promising to remove the Kazaa software from his computer.

Unfortunately, not everyone will be this lucky. Students must acknowledge the fact that industry officials are actively looking for those sharing pirated copies of movies and songs, and that universities will do nothing to protect their identities. Students would be well-advised to take this into consideration when using file-sharing programs such as Kazaa.

University Wire — Johns Hopkins University