File sharing is as ubiquitous at Columbia as almost any other university. File sharing of copyrighted content is illegal. However, you are allowed to share copyright-free content.
File sharing methods
- File sharing programs
- i2hub, now defunct
Other file acquisition methods
These methods do not involve uploading files and are therefore not file sharing methods. That said, even just downloading copyrighted files is illegal. The only difference is that it's harder to trace and harder to prosecute.
Almost every node on the Columbia network is restricted to downloading 350 megabytes per hour and uploading 180 megabytes per hour. Users who exceed these limits are restricted to a severely throttled bandwidth for between 20 minutes and 4 hours depending on how much they went over the limits. The throttled bandwidth is extremely slow; only fast enough for slowly surfing basic web pages.
Organizations like the RIAA and MPAA hire specialized detection firms to track down students who illegally upload and download files. Such firms log on to file sharing networks and BitTorrent, and connect to users on these networks to obtain their IP addresses.
Some file sharers try to avoid detection by connecting to file-sharing networks via a proxy, like the big Swedish one that costs something like $10 per year. Such a proxy hides their IP address behind the proxy's network.
RIAA legal action
The Recording Industry Association of America is the main threat to students who download MP3s. It typically targets students who have violated many copyrights. Before issuing a lawsuit, the RIAA sometimes allows students to settle for a payment between $3,500 and $5,000.
MPAA legal action
The Motion Picture Association of America takes a more graduated approach than the RIAA. It will issue notices under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to file sharers who have violated a small number of copyrights. It will then issue a second notice, and only after that will it take legal action.
Columbia blocks file sharers from accessing its network upon receiving a notice from the RIAA or MPAA. Students are generally able to reactivate their network access upon affirming that they do not hold any content in violation of copyrights, and that they promise not to file share again. Columbia does not monitor this promise. If Columbia receives a second notice from the RIAA or MPAA, the student's internet access may be permanently disabled, and the student is subjected to Dean's Discipline.
Effects on Columbia students
- Columbia gets a few hundred DMCA notices per year.
- The RIAA has so far sued 47 Columbia file sharers, of whom 39 settled out of court.
- 39 of the 47 lawsuits arose from RIAA targetting of i2hub.
- On Wednesday 21 March 2007, a further 20 students were issued threats of lawsuits by the RIAA unless they settle.
- Some students have formed a club called Free Culture at Columbia to protest against copyright and the RIAA and MPAA's legal actions.