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File-sharing student receives warning

After a formal investigation into the creation and use of his popular server, sophomore Elliott Wolf was penalized Monday with a formal warning and a written assignment from Undergraduate Judicial Affairs.

Wolf, an Angier B. Duke Scholar and Chronicle columnist, operated a server that allowed students to stream and download thousands of television shows, movies, music videos and sports clips.

Wolf said the formal warning will be added to his disciplinary record. The administration also assigned Wolf to write an essay explaining how Duke could offer students alternative ways to access copyrighted works.

"It could have been a lot worse," Wolf said. "My main fear was that it would affect my scholarship, and with a severe penalty it was possible the scholarship could be in jeopardy."

He added that the threat of having his scholarship revoked was the reason he originally shut down the site.

Last week, Associate Dean of Judicial Affairs Stephen Bryan wrote in a letter to Wolf that hosting the server was in violation of the University's regulations governing Computer Usage and Property, Facilities and Services. An investigation into the server soon ensued.

Wolf said he met with Bryan Monday after receiving his warning and tried to negotiate continuing to host television shows and Duke basketball games on his server. "We have access to them anyway. It's a convenience thing," Wolf said.

He referenced a Supreme Court precedent that allows timeshifting of television shows, giving people the right to view shows however they want.

"If it isn't illegal, why do they care?" Wolf added.

Wolf said Bryan left no room for him to continue to operate his server, telling him to wait 60 years until the copyrights expire to host Duke basketball games.

Bryan declined to comment on the case.

Sue Wasiolek, assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said she could not comment on individual disciplinary situations. "Each case is considered on an individual basis with no typical or prescribed outcome," she noted.

Wolf said he will appeal the decision handed down by Judicial Affairs, claiming that University officials illegally obtained evidence for the investigation.

"The administration illicitly obtained the password, entered the computer, looked around and used the information in the judicial process," Wolf said.

In a document Wolf wrote for the investigation that detailed the history of his server, he noted that it was a private system meant for use by specific people. He added that some professors requested that students obtain information from the server for their courses.

Although Wolf received a warning from the University, he is still susceptible to lawsuits from various media industries.

Ben Sidbury, a lawyer with Charlotte-based firm Alston & Bird LLP, said a situation in which students stream or download television programs, movies and music videos from a server could conflict with copyright laws and lead to legal problems for the server's host and those who use it.

"Just because the University handles it, private internal measures wouldn't shield someone from an industry and won't resolve any potential lawsuits," Sidbury said.

Sidbury said the recording or movie industries nationwide are going after both the users and hosts of various servers.

He said, however, there is no standard protocol for these situations.


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