April 15, 2003 2:26 PM PDT
Navy disciplines students for downloading
The punishments stopped short of the most extreme possibilities for Naval midshipmen, as Academy students are called. A spokesman for the school said that no students had been expelled or suspended, but that they had been appropriately disciplined.
"This was about holding the next generation of our nation's combat leadership accountable for their actions," said Commander Bill Spann, the Academy's spokesman. "This was an important lesson to learn, particularly given their age. They were told on numerous occasions that this was an inappropriate use of government resources."
The Academy's confiscation of student computers last year was one of the most well-publicized moments in a growing campaign against file-swapping on school campuses. Other colleges have warned their students about the dangers of copyright infringement or imposed strict bandwidth-monitoring tools, but few have imposed direct punishments for trading songs or videos online.
The Recording Industry Association of America turned up the heat earlier this month, however. The trade group sued four students at three universities, primarily for running tools on their personal computers that allowed other people to search the campus networks for MP3s and other files. The RIAA called the search tools "mini-Napsters," although critics of the action noted that several of the tools functioned more like a traditional Web search engine than a file-swapping service.
The lawsuits, filed without first contacting the students involved, angered officials at some of the universities.
"Had you followed the previous methods established in notification of a violation, we would have shut off the student and not allowed the problem to grow to the size and scope that it is today," Michigan Tech President Curtis Tompkins wrote in a letter to the RIAA following the lawsuits, one of which targeted a student at his school. "We would have expected the courtesy of being notified early and allowing us to take action by following established procedures, instead of allowing it to get to the point of lawsuits and publicity."
The Naval Academy investigation began in November, when the administration seized computers belonging to 92 students. Seven of those were not disciplined. Spann declined to comment on specific punishments, but said disciplinary actions for the others could range from demerits and loss of leave to extra duties and restrictions on campus activities.
All of the Academy students were given back their computers, and at no time did they lose access to their network files or campus computing facilities, Spann said.
Spann declined to comment on whether any of the students had run their own network search tools, or on whether the Navy was actively monitoring students' use of the network. He said any future violations would be dealt with according to the school's policies.
The RIAA welcomed the disciplinary actions.
"When colleges and universities enforce their own policies against copyright infringement occurring on their campuses, it is often a wake-up call to those unaware of the serious consequences involved in engaging in this type of illegal activity," a spokeswoman said. "We absolutely applaud those (institutions) who take such theft seriously."
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