Illegal downloads down on campus

While USF’s football team was climbing national polls on the momentum of six straight wins earlier this semester, the University was sinking rapidly in another national ranking.

USF’s subsequent slide to the bottom of the polls may have disappointed football fans, but its drop from 11th to 92nd in the nation for the number of formal illegal file-sharing complaints received by the Recording Industry Association of America is a relief for the University.

The trend coincides with the University’s effort to combat illegal file sharing.

Days after Chief Technology Officer Michael Pearce announced this news to a Board of Trustees (BOT) subcommittee Nov. 6, the 1 million mark for downloads was also met on Ruckus, a service like iTunes that allows students to download free and legal music.

“In the end, what’s causing the drop (from 11th to 92nd)?” Pearce said. “Students.”

At one time, USF was among the RIAA’s top targets for a nation-wide crackdown on collegiate file-sharing. Pearce, in a presentation to the BOT, said the RIAA was impressed by the University’s progress.

“RIAA personnel in a recent conference call expressed interest in understanding the methodology adopted by USF in containing the number of violations,” stated a document Pearce passed out to BOT members.

He said the University tries to inform as many students as possible about illegal downloading, as well as give them a way to get free music without fear of lawsuits or computer viruses.

But USF is still behind only one other school, the University of Tennesee, in the number of pre-litigation letters it has received from the association, RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth wrote in an e-mail.

To date, USF has received 124 of these letters, which offer accused students 20 days to settle with the RIAA out of court for more than $3,000 to avoid a lawsuit. The association has filed suit against 54 of the students.

The drop was reported before USF started testing software to monitor the network. Ruckus, launched in September, has about 6,000 users so far.

The University will follow the good news with more of the same, Pearce said. It will step up efforts to inform the resident student body, offer Ruckus, and keep a watchful eye on the network.

Starting this year, orientation staffers spoke to incoming students about the potential consequences of swapping music online. If any of these freshmen registered for the University Experience course, they heard about the consequences again, Pearce told the BOT.

An e-mail addressing copyright infringement, acceptable use of network privileges and the availability of Ruckus is now sent to network users every semester.

USF also has been publishing a blog tracking file-sharing news since June. It can be found at

In an effort to limit copyright infringement on campus, USF is also testing two programs that would alert administrators to file-sharing on the network, Red Lambda and Enterasys Dragon, Pearce said.

The software, rather than stopping the transfer of files over the University network, will either monitor what is being sent, identify the programs used to send the files, or mark times of

exceptionally high traffic.

“I’m not looking at (Red Lambda) as something that’s policing you, but as something that’s helping you understand you could be (sharing copyrighted files),” Pearce said.

Technology administrators will be testing the programs over the next couple of months. Students whose IP address is found

running file-sharing software will be redirected to a page asking if they are in violation of copyright laws.

“Initially, we’re not going to prevent anyone from using the (peer-to-peer programs),” Pearce said. “We’re going to ask you to acknowledge you’re using them and (that) you’re using them for legitimate reasons.”

If a student who claimed he wasn’t sharing copyrighted files receives a complaint from the RIAA, he or she will be referred to Student Judicial Services and could have their network privileges revoked indefinitely.

Because the University’s policy blocks the release of students’ personal information, the RIAA files “John Doe” suits, in which the association can ask for subpoenas for the students’ information.

The USF Office of the General Counsel received subpoenas for the personal information of the 54 students in August. It is the University’s policy not to release student information, but the subpoenas forced its hand, Associate General Counsel Colin Mailloux said.

The association has sent an additional 43 letters this semester.

Dan Catlin can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or