• United States
by Ann Harrison

Midshipmen slapped for alleged file trading

May 08, 20033 mins
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* U.S. Naval Academy students disciplined for alleged file swapping

Eighty-five students at the U.S. Naval Academy have been disciplined for allegedly downloading music from file trading sites.

The academy launched the investigation back in November by seizing computers belonging to 92 students. Seven of those students were not disciplined.

This suggests that the academy is actually looking into exactly what online activities their students have been involved in, as opposed to punishing students based on mere allegations as other schools have done.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has made a practice of sending notices to universities complaining that their students have been involved in file trading. Based on these unproven complaints alone, universities have been shutting students off from their network access, and in some cases, threatening to expel them.

But the Naval Academy students who had their machines confiscated were eventually given back their computers. None of them lost access to their network files or campus computing facilities. The students have been disciplined, but not expelled or suspended. According to a Naval Academy spokesperson, the disciplinary action could include extra duties, restrictions on campus activities, loss of leave or demerits.

The Naval Academy would not comment on whether the students were identified by its own monitoring programs, or whether any students were being punished for having developed search tools. Commander Bill Spann, the Academy’s spokesman, told “Wired News” that the action “…was about holding the next generation of our nation’s combat leadership accountable for their actions. 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 decision of a government organization to discipline its members for file trading comes as no surprise. The RIAA has effectively lobbied Congress to pass legislation that supports litigation against file traders.

But it will be interesting to see if other universities begin to rebel against the RIAA’s anti-P2P demands and hold the recording industry accountable for their allegations. The industry group sued four students at three universities last month for running software tools that could search networks for MP3 files. Some university officials were angered that the lawsuits were filed without attempting to contact the students first, or notifying the schools of alleged violations.

When the RIAA prevents schools from responding to file trading by instituting their own measures, they will alienate university officials who may begin to wonder why Hollywood is dictating information exchange policies on campuses.