While the final outcome of RIAA's court victory last week against Jammie Thomas remains uncertain, the ruling reminds us that the nearly 20,000 lawsuits filed by the industry group obviously stand a chance in court. Regardless of your own feelings on the matter, as has been noted in this column before, the downloading and sharing of copyrighted materials is illegal. For some reason, RIAA has chosen to sue individual file sharers rather than the sites that enable file sharing (like Kazaa, Limewire, and their ilk), leaving the countless students who share files every day vulnerable to lawsuits.
RIAA has already exerted pressure in a variety of ways on universities and colleges, and many are either providing names and access logs and/or blocking all file sharing on campus. While the group has its legal hands full right now, it is only a matter of time before they begin holding institutions accountable for the activities to which they turn a blind eye or otherwise enable, even through naivete.
Universities have been the subject of significant scrutiny for long enough that most higher education IT groups understand the legal and technical components of file sharing on campus, even if the students do not. However, for K-12 administrators, this is largely uncharted territory. What are students downloading using your network infrastructure? I found a machine last year sitting on our network in the back of an office downloading and seeding as fast as our backbone would allow. The system was running XP Home and was not on our domain, but obviously had Internet access. I just happened to notice traffic issues on a particular switch.
How about laptops on your network? Most of us allow them and even encourage them. Despite various access controls, it's still easy for kids to download and upload music, movies, games, and software once connected to most networks. We can bock ports, throttle bandwidth, and block individual sites, but this becomes a management issue bigger than many of us. So what should we do? We need to protect ourselves legally, but should also do our best to protect and educate the students.
An important first line of defense remains a very clear, strictly enforced acceptable use policy for students and staff; now, more than ever, that policy should include specific language relating to file sharing. Talk back below and let us know what else you've done legally and/or technically to mitigate the problems associated with illegal file sharing.