The University of Florida has developed a tool to help extricate the school from the morass of peer-to-peer file trading, and early results show that it's succeeding.

Integrated Computer Application for Recognizing User Services, commonly called Icarus, debuted over the summer on the network that links all the residence halls on the UF campus.

The open-source program was developed by campus programmers to cut off the file sharing going on among students. Housing officials say the application educates students as it restricts them from peer-to-peer services.

Last spring, the university received about 40 notices of copyright violations per month. At peak file-trading periods, 90 percent of the traffic on the housing network was peer-to-peer. In an average 24-hour period, 3,500 of the 7,500 students in the residence halls would use P2P services like Kazaa.

"We needed something to stem the flow. We were spending too much time tracking people down," said Robert Bird, supervisor of network services for the UF department of housing. "There were too many of them and too few of us."

Enter Icarus.

"Icarus has detected about 300 people using P2P this fall," Bird said. "That's an over 90 percent drop in people using P2P. That's a dramatic reduction in user behavior."

This summer, Icarus nabbed 769 first-time offenders and 90 second-time violators; only four tested the system for a third time.

"When we turned the program on, our bandwidth usage dropped by 85 percent," said Norbert Dunkel, director of housing and residence education for the university.

"People simply stopped trying," Bird said.

When students first register on the network, they are required to read about peer-to-peer networks and certify that they will not share copyright files. Icarus then scans their computer, detects any worms, viruses or programs that act as a server, such as Kazaa. Students are then given instructions on how to disable offending programs.

If a student is on the network and tries to share files, Icarus automatically sends an e-mail and an immediate pop-up warning and disconnects the student from the network. The first violation disables network access for 30 minutes; the second cuts off access for five days. Third-time offenders are subject to the school's judicial process, and their network access is cut off indefinitely.

Bird said the immediacy of the violation detection and user notification has been an effective deterrent. Some of the students may not intend to share files, anyway, so "we're preventing them from taking an unintended step into legal waters," he said.

Florida's project is the first case study presented to a committee of university officials and entertainment executives investigating fixes for illegal file sharing at colleges. The committee seeks standout examples of technologies that will curb illegal file sharing. Second, the group wants legitimate digital music and movie services designed for universities. Icarus addresses the first issue and could serve as a model to other schools.

Students weren't happy to see their file-sharing activities limited, but admitted they are getting the message.

"Personally I thought it sucked, but really there is nothing we can do about it because it's the university's network, and we signed an agreement to abide by their rules," said sophomore Mike Pavel, an astronomy major from Naples. "I know that when they first started the Icarus program, it caught a whole bunch of people right away -- they got the pop-up message."

An editorial in the student newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator, called Icarus "an invasive and annoying system that further deters students from living in dorms."

One student who asked not to be named said he was upset that he can no longer play LAN games with friends on his floor. Last year, he would regularly joust with 15 others, but the school restricts using a computer as a server, so he's given up the activity.

"I'm kind of bummed about that," he said.

The no file-servers policy has actually been in place for several years because several enterprising students had used the university network covertly to run their own commercial websites, some of which were illegal, according to Bird.

"One of the more popular websites for creating fake IDs was run off one of the student computers in the residence halls," he said. "It was up for about a month and a half. That example highlights exactly what you don't want to happen.

"The peer-to-peer file-sharing policy is a direct extension of that," he said.

Senior Jennifer Puckett, president of the Inter-Residence Hall Association, called Icarus "a good thing" as it enforces rules that were already in place.

"Most of the file-sharing stuff is really not all that moral," Puckett said. "You're taking things that aren't really yours to take."

However, some kids are still determined to access free music. Pavel said that "propellerheads" have found hacked versions of Kazaa that can work through loopholes in the system. Those who live off campus or use the school's wireless network are not limited by Icarus, either.

A recording industry representative who visited the school called the program "a tremendous success story."

"What the University of Florida has done in its combination of policy, student education and technology is an excellent example of what can be done in the university system (to combat illegal file sharing)," said Bruce Block, senior vice president of technology for the Recording Industry Association of America.

Not all schools will be eager to embrace this application, however.

"There are some legitimate uses that are stifled as a price for reducing illegitimate uses," said John Vaughn, executive vice president of the Association for American Universities and a staff member of the joint committee. "Different institutions take different approaches."

But critics say that Florida is going down the wrong road.

"This is what happens when you try to fight the peer-to-peer revolution," said Jason Schultz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "You either ban the technology completely or censor people's access to content."

When universities start to make decisions about what students can read, watch and listen to, they are changing the nature of student research and thought, Schultz said.

"It's essentially turning interactive computing into television. This has huge implications for academic freedom," he said.

If students are mistakenly identified as violating the school's policy, the burden is on them to justify what they are researching, invading their privacy in the process, Schultz said.

School officials said that Icarus has detected three "false positives."

Students seemed resigned to abide by the program.

"While file sharing is nice, it's not worth risking college or your future," Pavel said.

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