A few week ago, College administrators finally disbanded the popular file-sharing program DC++, through which countless TCNJ students have happily uploaded and downloaded files for years. The death sentence closely followed the publication of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which quoted a current TCNJ student responsible for maintaining the “Hub,” as it is informally known.
The April 18 article, which referred to the Hub as a means of “illegal swapping of copyrighted media,” generated negative publicity for the College after it was posted on Slashdot.org, a popular technology news website.
Students who maintained the Hub this year allege that the College’s handling of the ensuing controversy has been sorely hypocritical. “Everyone in the Information Technology (IT) Department has known about the Hub for years,” said one of the program’s moderators, who asked to be identified by his alias, MrWhite. It was only after the College’s began to experience blowback from the Chronicle article that they decided to take action.
Nadine Stern, Vice President for Information Technology and Enrollment Services at TCNJ, initially told the Chronicle, “We’ve made the decision not to be detectives and not to look for it,” when asked about the presence of file-sharing on the campus network. Only four days later, however, her position changed drastically. In a sternly worded campus-wide email, she stated, “The College takes illegal file sharing seriously. Therefore, we will begin to take technological steps to block the DC++ application, and we will pursue disciplinary action as appropriate.”
The subject of that disciplinary action, a TCNJ senior who requested anonymity, said he received an email accusing him of copyright violation after the College’s IT team had traced the IP address of the Hub to his particular computer.
“The box was in my room,” said the former moderator, “but I don’t really think that constitutes any violation of copyright law.” He was summoned to meet with Ryan Farnkopf, Assistant Director of Student Conduct.
“‘The box is in your room,” Farnkopf reportedly said, “and files are being transferred through it.’” The moderator said he corrected him, responding, “No, no files were ever traveling through that computer. The computer is literally just a chat room where two people can connect directly to each other and share their files,” he explained.
The former moderator was accused of violating the College’s Computing Access Agreement, though he asserted that “nowhere in the Computing Access Agreement does it say anything specifically about file-sharing.”
Further, MrWhite said the Chronicle article “grossly distorted what the Hub is… They made it seem as if it’s like a big mysterious box, chock-full of copyrighted files that we all surreptitiously move around.” But in reality, he said, there is nothing inherently illegal about the Hub, which at its essence merely is a chat room through which users can access shared files on other computers throughout the campus network. “Because all file transfers are handled directly between the uploading and downloading computers,” he continued, “the Hub itself cannot see what files are being transferred. So there is no way for the Hub operator to know whether or not any users are using it for copyright infringement.”
Indignant, the anonymous senior said he knows of several individuals currently working for the College’s IT department who themselves actively used the Hub. And it was these same people who were apparently involved in locating the current moderator for disciplining. “It’s hypocritical that they’re going after a couple of students when full-time employees were using it,” he said.
He also said that some IT employees “spend so much time on the school computers playing video games” – in particular, Team Fortress 2 – which unlike the Hub represents an actual violation of the College’s Computing Access Agreement: “Use of College computing resources by College employees for personal use without the approval of the department in which the resource is located.”
The former moderator declined to participate in a formal disciplinary hearing, saying that it would have been a “waste of a day” because he felt he was preemptively deemed guilty. “I’m being used as a scapegoat,” he added.
Luckily, this debacle will not appear on any transcripts for the senior, but it will stay on his disciplinary record for about five years after he graduates.