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Dirty Pants Leads to Legal Trouble

Clair P. Donnelly*, 20,  thought it would be beneficial to share information with others. However, upon entering her sophomore year and the introduction of a server to her hall, she found out there was more to file sharing than just creating a server. Just like everything in life, there are consequences to actions, and her consequences had to do with seemingly “illegal” actions in file sharing and distributing. By helping create/maintain a server, Dirty Pants, Donnelly was hoping to help distribute information and culture to other students on campus, sharing her music, programs, TV series, movies, or anything beneficial to the campus community. However, just like with many other cases, corporate distributors found a way to prevent her from sharing her files with others. A letter was sent to Donnelly and the college that she attended stating that she and whoever else had participated in making/maintaining or borrowing from the server would be charged with stealing material from corporate distributors and fined accordingly. The college, which had previously no problem with the server being run, just like many other servers on the campus, was now put in the tricky position of having a stain on its reputation. Both the college and the distributors decreed that if the server was not dismantled, the students

would be fined and kicked out of the college.

 But how did the history of just simple file sharing lead up to a mass distribution like this? File sharing gained popularity in the late 90’s with the birth of peer to peer (P2P) file transferring with the help of programs like Napster and Gnutella. P2P is a communication model where each party has the same capabilities and each party can initiate communication sessions. The concept behind this direct connecting and communication between computers is a sharing of information where all computers, and thus people, are equal. Basic file sharing started with Appletalk, which had to be directly connected to another computer on a private network, and then progressed to chats such as

IRC and Homer. The earliest forms of chatrooms like these allowed individuals to transfer files from user to user. The first server progressionof P2P file sharing was

Hotline. This was one of the first kinds of “store houses” of applications, film, music, and as irony would have it, massive amounts of porn. The servers were set up so that there was only a certain download rate of one item per user, to prevent lag, and users were kicked if they abused privileges. Other spin-offs of hotline are Bulldog. The birth of Gnutella Networks came soon after in the form of Limewire. Limewire is a public network, open-source program that allows peer uploading and downloading. Spin-offs of this are eMule, eDonkey, Acquisition, and a few more. Similar to these, Dirty Pants was created so that people who were allowed on the server were given free reign to new media.

There is a lot of conflict between corporate distributors and individuals about where to draw the line in filesharing, or if one should be drawn at all. Lawsuits have been handed out left and right to surprised and puzzled individuals from big name companies, demanding millions of dollars from them in exchange for the information they “stole.” Most recently, RIAA’s public relations campaign launched thousands of lawsuits, particularly at college students, for downloading and distributing files, and a total of 405 students at 18 different colleges nationwide were targeted. However, RIAA has decided they would only sue up to 25 students per college.  "There are 14 lucky students who will have escaped a lawsuit and 25 who will be sued," industry president Cary Sherman said in an April 12 conference call. According to MPAA president Jack Valenti, “This lawsuit is about stealing. Technology may make stealing easier, but it doesn't make it right."

The students involved with these lawsuits have, on average, 2,000 music files. The penalties for each downloading act could be as high as $150,000, however many lawsuits against students are settled out of court for about 3,000.

While some say that this is stealing from the artists by taking away profits on cd sales, the truth is that it costs 10 cents to produce a cd, and then it’s sold in stores for $15.00 - $25.00. Most associate the RIAA with the threat of lawsuits, but the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) has also stepped up to put a stop to on campus file-sharing. While they haven’t sent out notifications with the intention to sue, they have targeted the IP addresses of students who participate in movie file sharing, informing them that their activities in this should stop.

So, what is the stance to take? Is file-sharing an illegal act, or should it just be a way of sharing with others? Should a line be drawn about how much one should download, or should people pay for the material on iTunes or other distributors? The issue on campus is pretty one-sided: file sharing is simply what its name states: sharing files. Why should that be illegal? As noted by one anonymous Umaine student, “File-sharing is just like letting someone borrow something, whether it’s a movie or a song. Are industries going to crack down on me, too, just for letting my girlfriend borrow my copy of American Beauty?” Another UMaine student, Jessie Damm, stated that “as long as people aren’t claiming credit for something that isn’t theirs, information and knowledge should be shared freely.”

            In the end, Donnelly and her friends kept their server up, but had to revoke the requests of some people on campus, so that the download rate wouldn't be as noticable. However, the distribution and adding to the server is still going strong.


(* Note: Names of server-creators, the college, and server itself were changed in a request to remain anonymous.)



Leiah Pelletier, Danni Gagner, Kelly Swan, Stephanie Madrid and Ryan Habeeb

Posted 2005-12-05 09:09:54 by Max Langdon
Comments on this story... (toggle all)

Dirty Pants [Ryan Habeeb, 2005-12-06 23:03:21]

Students nowaday can be fined thousands of dollars for their file sharring violations. Clair certainly has become an example to other students of what can happen to you if you involve yourself in this.

It still takes place [Rocco Andreozzi, 2005-12-07 15:32:53]

I thnk the interesting thing is that even though many people are being fined for file shareing, it still growing and people continue to share. I dont think fining students will work to stop it. This is where our society is headed and oventually i think file shareing will be more excepted and less looked down upon. That is all.

Liability for the network versus its users [Jon Ippolito, 2005-12-16 06:36:57]

It sounds from this article that Clair simply maintained the server that allowed students to share files. Her case (if indeed she is a "her") sounds very much like the case of Jesse Jordan from RPI, who according to Lawrence Lessig was sued out of his life savings for fixing a bug in a university-based search engine.

Where should the liability lie for such "technical" assistance to sharing copyrighted material? I personally don't believe the argument that "guns don't kill people, people do" simply because there are some kinds of technology whose social risk outweighs their benefits. (I might allow duck hunters to keep 12-gauge shotguns, but not AK-47 assault rifles.)

When the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the video cassette recorder, it was because the Supremes saw the potential for "substantial noninfringing use" even though the MPAA cried foul. For example, some people might use it to copy home movies for relatives instead of simply pirating VHS tapes from Blockbuster.

So for me, the question for Clair's liability is not whether any users might abuse her system, but whether it has the potential for social benefits that outweigh the risks of its abuse.

The War on Us [Archimer, 2006-04-12 17:30:08]

The War on Poverty
The War on Drugs
The War on Terrorism

What we have here seems to be a phase in The War on Freedom. I think our administration is fighting more wars than it can handle already; why add this to it?

This article does, indeed, sound like the case that we have with many young people. The sheer volume of cases like this is rediculous.

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