UAF addresses potential online piracy law

Erin McGroarty/ Sun Star Reporter
Dec. 6, 2011

At the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Office of Information Technology is in charge of handling all copyright violations performed by students or staff and faculty. Although the university does a thorough job of cracking down on copyright violators, new legislation could change the system by targeting larger entities, rather than just the individual.

As of Sept. 30 the UA system had seen 1,003 copyright infringements in 2011 according to the UAF Office of Information Technology’s quarterly report. Of the 263 infringements this quarter, 125 were from University of Alaska Anchorage, 94 of them were from University of Alaska Fairbanks, 41 of them were from University of Alaska Southeast, and three of the infringements were from the University of Alaska System Office. This is a big change from the four cases of copyright infringement in 2001. Through the past ten years, the numbers have increased, peaking in 2010 with 1,476 cases of infringement.

Recently the Stop Online Piracy Act was introduced to the House of Representatives. This bill, also known as SOPA, is an attempt to cut down on the number of copyright infringements on the internet each year, mostly due to illegal downloading of music and movies.  If  passed, the University would be operating under the Stop Online Piracy Act rather than what they are operating under now.

Currently, the UA system has legal obligations under the DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The purpose of this, according the the copyright complaints guidelines for OIT, is to “protect copyright holders and to response quickly to complaints about copyright violation.” This has been the system that UA has used for years. This essentially is what the Stop Online Piracy Act will do, with a few differences.

Both policies have the same intent, to stop copyright infringement on the internet.

However, UAF differs in that the DMCA holds the systems themselves harmless and focuses more on the individual who violated the copyright. As long as the university reports the infringements and disciplines the offenders, nothing is held against the university itself.

The new Stop Online Piracy Act would put sanctions on internet providers, search engines, website providers and potentially organizations like UA for not doing more to block copyright violations. For example, if one were to do a Google search and come with up a website for free illegal downloads, the new Stop Online Piracy Act would allow the Department of Justice to put sanctions on Google, or any local web provider or organization that knowingly provides access to those sites.

“There are two sides of the coin really,” Chief Information Technology Officer, Karl Kowalski said, “there are those that think ‘Finally, they’re doing more to protect copyright material’ and then there are the opponents that think ‘This is going too far, why are you punishing the organization that provides a broader internet service, for those people that are offending’, and I can see both sides.”

According to the bill text, this new act will have the potential to shut down the site and seize the domain name as punishment for copyright violation. Therefore, once the site is seized, if one were to attempt to view the site, a notice would pop up saying something alone the lines of “The Department of Justice has seized this site for copyright violations.” While both the DMCA and the SOPA have the same broad intent, DMCA focuses more on the individual, while SOPA will focus more on the broader and more general websites and search engines, making the web providers just as guilty as those who are created illegal downloading sites.

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