File sharing

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File sharing is as ubiquitous at Columbia as almost any other university. File sharing of copyrighted content is illegal. However, you are of course allowed to share copyright-free content.


File sharing methods

P2P programs

File sharing kicked off through computer programs like Napster and Kazaa. These were either shut down or became clogged up with falsely named files. Many students then turned to DC++, but this was shut down by AcIS. After that, people turned to i2hub, which was based on the DC++ protocol. The i2hub network ran on the high-speed Abilene Network, which was created by the Internet2 consortium. This also restricted the network to university students and therefore there were few falsely named files. The most popular P2P program is now Limewire.


BitTorrent is a revolutionary file sharing protocol whereby files are split into much smaller components. All the users sharing a file collaborate to share these components as rapidly as possible. This makes BitTorrent an excellent way to rapidly download movies, music, and other large file-size content. When sharing a file using BitTorrent, the user's IP address is visible to all the other users sharing that file. Many students get caught violating copyrights when an organization acting on behalf of the RIAA or MPAA connects to the file and makes a note of all the IP addresses.

Ruckus email address holders are able to use Ruckus to download a large selection of copyrighted files perfectly legitimately. However, the selection of songs isn't rather limited. Ruckus only works on Windows computers, not Macs. And there are heavy DRM restrictions. For example, you can't play Ruckus files on your portable audio device.

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.

Bandwidth limitations

Almost every node on the Columbia network is restricted to downloading 350 megabytes per hour and uploading 180 megabytes per hour. Typically a movie takes 2.5 hours to download going at maximum speed on the Columbia network. Users who exceed the above 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. Thus, if you plan to download a large file, you may want to limit your download speed to 97 kbps and your upload speed to 44 kbps.

Legal risks

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.


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.

Avoiding detection

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.

You can also avoid detection on the Columbia wifi network by spoofing your MAC address.

Columbia policy

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.
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