Illegal activity on campus?

Students download music from the Internet without paying for it.

This is a fact; while it might seem like a sweeping generalization to condemn students for what amounts to stealing in the eyes of some, any person spending time on a university campus will sooner or later run into somebody who downloads files that they did not pay for.

What are the attitudes of students toward the downloading of illicit music and video files from the Internet? What are the legal implications of these acts? What could the possible outcome be of student culture embracing this habit in the long term?

The Cord talked to students, faculty members and a representative from ResNet, Laurier’s campus Internet service, in an effort to gain insight into the behavior that so many students participate in, often without a full understanding of the implications.

Of all the students approached for this story, not a single one denied downloading music.
Second-year communications student Sara Lawrence commented, “Yeah, I think it’s wrong but I’m too cheap and poor not to download music.”

She added that she buys some music and has an iTunes account, something that could not be said for many students.

Andrew Moase holds the position of technical co-ordinator at ResNet.

Despite the illegal nature of file-sharing, especially mp3s or video files, Moase said ResNet does not have a policy against the illegal activity.

ResNet’s terms of service prohibits hosting a server or hub for file-sharing programs, but in terms of piracy, Moase said, “There’s obviously a whole big grey mess that is copyright, but we’re looking at [file sharing] from a reliability of the system standpoint.”

He also noted that since ResNet is not a true Internet service provider, it could not be held liable for pirated material on the network.

The Laurier network occasionally harbours an elusive service called DC++, a file-sharing program that allows quick and easy access to pirated music and video material on computers connected in residences and over Laurier’s wireless network.

During the 2008-09 year, Brian McLean hosted DC++ from his computer in residence.

“I set up and maintained it for most of the year,” he said. “It wasn’t too tough.”

Asked whether ResNet had anything to say about the hub he replied, “Pretty much nothing. I don’t know if they knew about it.”

Now in second year, McLean echoed the opinions of other students about his own downloading.

“I don’t always know if I’m going to like something so I download it and find out. Downloading music is convenient and saves you a lot of money.”

McLean emphasized that he does want to support artists, yet does so through other avenues. “I mostly try to support bands by going to concerts,” he said.

The legal implications of downloading music for free seems to be present in the thoughts of those engaged in it.

That being said, some students admitted that even if prosecution were a serious threat, they would still continue downloading.

But what part of this is actually illegal?

Assistant professor of communication studies at Laurier Martin Dowding discussed Canadian legislation on the issue. He mentioned Section 80 of the Canadian Copyright Act (1985).

“It refers specifically to the fact that you can download – and this is already out of date – but you can’t share. There are all sorts of ways to get something off the web and download and use it but once you send it to someone else, that’s sharing. That’s illegal.”

According to the Canadian Ministry of Justice website, copying audio onto “an audio recording medium for the private use of the person who makes the copy does not constitute an infringement of the copyright.”

While sharing is illegal, simply downloading and copying music to an iPod or CD is technically not.

Ambivalence to legal issues is common among students, and even the supposed moral wrong of downloading music seems to have no effect on their habits.

When asked if he felt his downloading was wrong, second-year music major Will Hunter replied, “Nope, I don’t think so.”

All those who were asked whether downloading music would remain a mainstay of student life agreed that it would.

“It’s just going to get bigger and bigger until the record labels are forced to adapt and change,” McLean commented.

Recent developments in the prosecution of sharing pirated files, as well as updates to outdated Canadian legislation, suggest a future where free access to music and movies may not be as unlikely as many believe.

According to Moase, “It really hasn’t caught up with the times. If the legislation were to catch up to what’s occurring now, there might be a shift in people’s perceptions.”

Canadian legislation may be in question and changes could come very soon. According to the Department of Justice website, the aforementioned Canadian Copyright Act is only current until Oct. 21, 2009.

With copyright issues continuously appearing in the news and 25-year-old laws in place – that may or may not be current or applicable – Canadians, especially the students who download large quantities of content, may soon feel the impacts of new attacks on their downloading habits.

For more information on Canadian copyright law and new developments against piracy elsewhere in the world check out:

http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/C-42/
http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/fo/intellect_property.aspx
http://www.tinymixtapes.com/Secret-Copyright-Treaty-Leaks
http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/02/pirate-bay-tria/

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