Copyright infringement cases down at TCU this year


    The number of cases dealing with students illegally downloading copyright material for this semester is minimal compared to last year’s numbers.

    Campus Life deals with students downloading illegal items on TCU’s network,  including movies, music and a few books, said Jeremy Steidl, an assistant dean of Campus Life. He said a student can get caught based on as little as one song download.

    Steidl said that last year his department dealt with 100 cases of students violating TCU’s Student Handbook in regards to copyright infringement; however, this year, there have only been 12 cases so far.

    Lenelda Pennington, information security engineer, said she noticed that illegal downloading peaks three times within each semester: the first of the semester, the middle of the semester- when students get stressed- and during finals time.

    Students may question how it’s even possible to get caught. Basically, copyright holders discover that students are illegally downloading their material on the university’s network, and those companies will notify the Information Security Services department that copyright infringement is taking place, Pennington said.

    She said after being notified, her department immediately disables the students’ connection to the university’s server, then hands the case over to Campus Life.

    Steidl said he works with the students on copyright infringement cases. He approaches these situations in a way that is oriented toward educating the students, above all else, so that they are more aware of their cyber activity.

    He mainly deals with first time encounters, and there is an extremely low turn out rate for second time offenders, he said.

    Once a student is caught, they attend a meeting with Campus Life where they are educated on how unauthorized use of the university’s computer resources violates the university’s handbook regulations, Steidl said.

    He said the students are required to write an email to 20 fellow peers explaining their experience and educating others on the matter. Essentially, he said the emails are used to spread the word that the university does in fact address copyright situations when students are caught in the act.

    After students remove the illegally downloaded item(s) and software from their computers, the students’ network connection is re-enabled, Steidl said.

    “Freshman year, I downloaded music illegally off the Internet, which I got caught for by TCU,” a junior journalism major said.

    She said when she was notified she became nervous of the consequences because she had no idea how the university would handle the situation.

    Despite of her initial concerns, she said that Campus Life handled the case with a sense of understanding and even showed her the exact song that got her caught.

    She also said that the meeting she attended with Campus Life was effective because it encouraged her to no longer illegally download items on the campus network.

    A junior psychology major said he was also caught illegally downloading music during his freshman year.

    He said he was caught for downloading one album, but said getting caught wasn’t a big deal for him because it was “like a slap on the wrist.” However, he said it was enough to stop him from downloading copyright material on campus.

    Overall, he said Campus Life was reasonable, and he understands why the university needs to prevent students from partaking in copyright infringement.

    Ultimately, Steidl said that the best piece of advice he can give students to avoid situations like these is “if you’re suppose to pay for it, pay for it.”

    To clarify what is classified as copyright infringement, Daxton Stewart, associate dean of the College of Communication and former attorney said, “If you are distributing materials that you do not have a right to… it’s a form of copyright infringement.”

    Stewart said he understands why the university polices the matter. He explained that if campus devices, servers or networks are used to download illegal material then the university needs to take precaution to avoid being accused as a contributory infringer.

    He also said the way the university handles copyright infringement is much different than that the legal system. 

    “The legal system is a lot more black and white when it comes to enforcement of copyright,” Stewart said. “Copyright holders have very, very strong rights and remedies under the Copyright Act.” 

    Essentially if copyright infringement occurs, copyright holders automatically win, Stewart said. He said that downloading one song equals a minimum fine of $750. This was passed by Congress as a “statutory minimum” for copyright infringement.

    Consequences of copyright infringement are dealt withbeyond the boundaries of TCU’s Campus Life. Stewart said there is a “high level of damage rewards” for infringement cases.

    He said that courts have been “unsympathetic” to such cases. He referred to two major lawsuits where courts have ruled in favor of copyright holders.

    Thomas-Rasset v. Capitol Records only targeted 24 illegally downloaded songs within the case, yet the damages of the lawsuit amounted to $222,000. Jammie Thomas-Rasset attempted to make an appeal on the decision to the Supreme Court, but the court refused to hear her case.

    Stewart also mentioned the Sony BMG Music Entertainment v. Tenenbaum case, in which Joel Tennembaum was ordered to pay a $675,000 fine for illegally downloading 30 songs. When Tennembaum tried to appeal to the Supreme Court, they also were not willing to hear his request.

    Essentially, Stewart said, “Right now, copyright law very heavily favors copyright holders.”

    This is why he understands the reasons behind the university enforcing its policy on copyright infringement, he said. Stewart explained that if copyright holders find a university is contributing to infringement, and they don’t address it, then that kind of damage fine can be targeted at the university.

    Stewart also agreed with Steidl that the university handles copyright situations as an educational experience.

    “College isn’t about being right all the time, people are going to make mistakes and the university recognizes that and wants to make sure they minimize the harm,” Stewart said.