UC Davis doesn't make the top 25--and that's good

Universities usually want to be on top when it comes to rank, but in a new list from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), UC Davis isn't among the top 25.

Good thing, considering the list ranks universities that have received the most notices from RIAA regarding the illegal file-sharing of music. Ohio University tops the list with 1,287.

But UC Davis' numbers are rising. The campus has received 459 notices so far this academic year, said Jan Carmikle, an attorney and UC Davis' designated agent for notifications of illegal file-sharing, up from 310 for all of 2005-06. (UC San Francisco had the lowest of the UC campuses last year, with 22 notices.)

The rise signifies a new crackdown by the industry, not necessarily a jump in illegal file swaps. Copyright holders have become more active in recent months and are concentrating on colleges, where fast networks and high bandwidth make illegal downloads more convenient.

To combat illegal file-sharing, the campus runs education campaigns and responds to every notice, to make sure the violator removes the illegal files and the software used to share them. And the campus is investigating ways to make it more difficult for illegal files to occur on the network, plus looking for more opportunities to educate users.

For most violators, one notice is enough. A second brings permanent consequences. No violator on campus has ever received a third.

The campus also promoted an alternative to illegal sharing by buying students free subscriptions this year to Ctrax, a digital music-buying service. Other universities have done the same. But Ctrax owner Cdigix is dropping the service as of April 30. The shutdown affects about 1,300 students at UC Davis.

Legal options for downloading music continue; here is a list of legal music sites.

It's mostly movies and TV shows, not music

Song piracy gets most of the publicity, but only 17 percent of the UC Davis notifications for 2005-06 were for music. Of the rest, 14 percent were for software and games--such as The Sims, Diablo, Super Mario Bros., and Guitar Hero--and 68 percent were for movies and television shows. Popular ones include the TV series "Heroes," "The Office," and "Battlestar Galactica."

The campus does not monitor its network for illegal file-sharing, but as a service provider, it is obligated to act on every notice. It also gets notices from Sony Music, NBC Universal, Paramount, Fox, Entertainment Software Alliance (which represents gaming companies), and Business Software Alliance (which represents software companies), among others.

"People think they are only vulnerable to getting caught when they are downloading a file," Carmikle said, a task that takes just seconds on a fast connection.

The notices, though, are based on users providing an unauthorized copy for other people to download, also known as uploading. Companies and organizations use peer-to-peer software to search for copies of their products (the same software that pirates use). When they locate a copy of their product, they download it, note the time, IP address, and title. If the IP address is from UC Davis, Carmikle gets a notice. Then it's her job to tell the student, faculty, or staff member who provided the illegal uploading that their access to the network will be blocked.

The copyright searches and subsequent notifications to universities are automated. And because many computers are hooked up to the Internet all the time--and their peer-to-peer software is, by default, potentially making illegal files available all the time--it's increasingly likely they will get caught.

Another common misperception is that only the big violators are targeted. "The music notifications I get now," Carmikle said, "are generally for one song."

Two strikes and you're off the network

Most of the illegal file-swapping notices go to students--94 percent this year. Two percent go to staff and faculty, and 4 percent involve departmental computers. For staff, the matter is turned over to the department administration; for faculty, the dean or department chair is notified.

Students are referred to Student Judicial Affairs. After receiving a notification from dmca@ucdavis.edu, which stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the violator's network access privileges for that computer are turned off. (The student can still use campus computer labs.) After a first violation, students learn the potential consequences of illegal file-sharing and must go through an educational program and sign an agreement. Then they get their network access back. Some are off the network for at least a week--longer if they don't go to Student Judicial Affairs promptly.

For most violators, that usually solves the problem. The peer-to-peer software is removed and copyrighted material is no longer made available. A user who receives a second notice permanently loses UC Davis network privileges.

Repeat offenders are rare. There were only 12 in 2005-06 and just eight so far this year.

If a third infringement happens, the university is liable for fines of at least $15,000 per illegal copy, up to $150,000 per copy if the infraction was known. Carmikle knows of no universities that have been sued for a third violation.

But UC policy is to not take that chance.

For more about copyright infringement, visit getlegal.ucdavis.edu or email dmca@ucdavis.edu.