Campus file-sharing draws attention

Software program DC++ slows on-campus Internet and risks spreading computer viruses across the network

If passed
Image by: Justin Chin
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Major film companies lodge an average of eight complaints a day with Queen’s officials. The emails are always in response to illegal file sharing on the University’s server.

Under Canadian law, users can be charged up to $20,000 for every illegally downloaded file.

Approximately 20 terabytes of copyrighted digital content is exchanged over the campus file-sharing program, DC++, every day — about 40,000 hours of video or 20 million minutes of audio.

DC++ and its offspring program Shakespeer use peer-to-peer file sharing to distribute media across campus to users with a Queen’s Internet Protocol (IP) address.

Unlike BitTorrent downloading sites that take small parts of a file from multiple users, DC++ transfers full files from one computer to another.

Queen’s DC++ hub is run by a team of administrators, operators and web hosts who change year-to-year.

The staff mask their identities with usernames.

The administrators did not respond to emails from the Journal.

Guelph, Laurier and McMaster Universities also have versions of DC++ operating on their campus servers.

For nearly a decade DC++ has fostered illegal downloading of audio, video and software files at Queen’s.

Information Technology Services reported that administration hasn’t attempted to shut down the program.

According to Queen’s copyright specialist Mark Swartz, Bill C-11 is the latest incarnation in a long line of legislature which has sought to amend the Canadian Copyright Act.

The bill was presented to the House of Commons last month to “update the rights and protections of copyright owners to better address the challenges and opportunities of the Internet, so as to be in line with international standards.”

The House of Commons hasn’t made a decision on the tabled bill.

“What the new copyright bill does is try to crack down on the people that provide these services rather than the users of these services,” Swartz said, adding that the current legislature “was made before the Internet was the way it is today.” A clause known as fair dealing allows for the legal downloading of legitimate files, like academic resources, on the Internet.

Swartz said he thinks the bill is a step in the right direction for Canada, but finds one clause disconcerting.

He cited a part of the bill that makes it illegal to break embedded locks on media files.

Locks are meant to prevent illegal copying, but Swartz said this clause doesn’t consider media files broken for legal use — like research or educational resources.

While the US has seen almost a decade of mass litigation against illegal film downloading, this September marked the first time Canadian file-sharers took a hit.

Three Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Quebec were ordered to hand over the names and IP addresses of customers who illegally downloaded Kathryn Bigelow’s film The Hurt Locker in 2008.

The case hasn’t been resolved, but if Bill C-11 is passed, defendants will face smaller fines.

Under the new legislature, users would be liable to pay $5,000 for each illegally downloaded file. Currently, they can be charged up to $20,000.

File-sharing through mechanisms like DC++ will still be legal under Canadian law if Bill C-11 passes.

Dreamworks, Paramount, Sony Entertainment and Lionsgate send their complaints about DC++ file sharing to Queen’s Systems and Storage Co-ordinator Ray Pengelly.

“File-sharing has a major performance impact on our network,” he said. “When you see your on-campus Internet slowing down, this is why.”

All students using Queen’s wireless are bound by the Computer User Code of Ethics.

The Code directly prohibits illegal file-sharing and students in violation will likely hear from ITS after a downloading spree.

It’s easy for ITS to find a perpetrator. Complaints against the university list the user’s IP address, the illegally downloaded file and time of download.

“If they’re in residence where DC++ is running, we have a way of going in, finding their IP address and temporarily suspending their access to the network,” Pengelly said.

Last month, IT sent 45 emails to students in residence, warning them that their use of DC++ was in violation of Canadian copyright laws.

Pengelly said if illegal Internet use continues after the warning email, IT can temporarily suspend the student’s Internet access.

But viruses should be a student’s main concern when using the program, he said.

“We try to set up our network so that if a virus in one area attacks, it won’t affect the campus as a whole,” Pengelly said. “But there are times where we’ve seen them distribute out across all computers across campus and have a major, major impact on our network.

“It ends up being a very large resource constraint on the university.”

Programs like DC++ make good hosts for viruses on campus.

“These things just crawl across DC++,” he said. “You could be talking about every computer in residence starting an attack across campus.”

Researchers share files with users at other universities, making viruses on the Queen’s network a risk to people off-campus as well.

“Our focus is more on ensuring that people use it fairly so the researchers, the students doing their academic work, don’t get bogged down by people who are trying to do things like file sharing,” Pengelly said.

Despite large bandwidth on the campus network, system stress is still an issue at the University.

“It’s not like we have so much bandwidth that it can’t be saturated,” he said, referencing a network crash at Stauffer Library last week due to a system overload.

Pengelly said if administration has any plans to quell file-sharing on DC++, he doesn’t know about it.

“There’ve been many discussions about it internally and what the best course of action is against it,” he said. “But it’s a very fine line what’s going on here, and that’s all I can say.”

Pengelly said he hopes students will see beyond the convenience of file-sharing to its unethical nature.

“There’s a lot of legitimate use of file-sharing, but they aren’t using DC++ to do it,” he said. “Let’s not be naive.”


Law, Politics, Technology

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