Eleven years after the unraveling of peer-to-peer music downloading service Napster, Duke is a nationally ranked host to online piracy, according to a recent report.
The report, titled “College Pirates,” placed Duke at the 48th spot in its list of the top 50 American universities in P2P network usage. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology topped the list with 2,315 hits on P2P program BitTorrent, followed by Rutgers University at 1,809. North Carolina Central University ranks 17th with 450 hits while Duke recorded 298 hits on its network.
The report was conducted by TorrentFreak, a website dedicated to news focusing on copyright infringement issues, and draws on data from all American universities beginning Nov. 2011. The report notes that not all files available on BitTorrent are shared illegally, but the platform hosts numerous unauthorized files.
“Nothing that I know of suggests that Duke is any better or any worse [than other institutions],” Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said. “We take it seriously and try to remind students that they are at risk if they share files illegally.”
The Office of Student Conduct and the Office of Information Technology send out an email at the beginning of every academic year warning undergraduate students of the illegality and consequences of copyright infringement.
Strict anti-piracy regulations at universities have decreased illegitimate network use, Ernesto van der Sar, founder of TorrentFreak and author of the report, noted. He added that the data reflected lower piracy rates than he expected from universities. Van der Sar, who is from the Netherlands, uses a pseudonym in his position. Duke regularly discusses security issues with peer schools in an effort to maintain open access to its network while educating individuals about how to responsibly use online resources, Cara Bonnett, managing editor for Duke OIT, wrote in an email Tuesday. Other universities use different approaches based on their the particular needs, legal requirements and culture, she added.
Van der Sar said Duke’s approach is reasonable, adding that the implementation of expensive security systems is futile because people will simply find a loophole.
“Instead, clearly inform students about the University’s policy toward copyright infringement, and respect the rights of both copyright holders and students,” he said.
In an effort to respect the privacy of students, staff and faculty, Duke only monitors bandwith usage, not the content or applications of network usage, Moneta said. If an individual uses an abnormally high amount of bandwidth, OIT ensures that the network is used for legitimate academic usage.
He added that unless copyright infringement is directly related to campus academics, the University is not involved in disciplining students who are caught. Although the University is informed of illegal activity on its network, cases go directly into the federal legal system.
“Students have to understand and hopefully come to value and respect intellectual property,” Moneta noted. “First, it’s an ethical issue and second, it’s a practical one. If caught, for students, it can be expensive and criminal.”
In contrast to popular thought, file-sharing itself is not illegal, only the sharing of copyrighted material, Bonnett noted. BitTorrent, she added, is also popular for its legal applications, including the sharing of Linux operating systems for games such as World of Warcraft.
In surveys and interviews of Duke students by the Kenan Institute for Ethics, students report pirating copyrighted music among the least unethical, said Noah Pickus, Nannerl O. Keohane director of the Kenan Institute. Online piracy is harmful to different areas of society, including the music industry and higher education, but students are not actively engaged in combating it.
“Students see actions where they can easily identify who is harmed—such as romantic cheating and drunk driving—as the most unethical,” Pickus wrote in an email Tuesday, “But, when they are unsure who is being harmed, they’re more likely just to do what is easiest.... That’s a shame in a university setting.”
Susan,* a sophomore, chooses not to fileshare, but does not entirely reject the practice.
“I always use legal alternatives such as Netflix or Hulu,” she said. “But if someone else torrents, I’m not going to report them. I’ve had other people torrent movies, and I’ve watched.”
Despite the University’s placement on the list, Moneta is optimistic about Duke’s policies.
“We have a good system,” Moneta said. “Students know what right and wrong is. We just have to keep pressing the right legal decision.”
*Name has been changed for source’s protection. The source’s class year is accurate.