Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Limewire in the classroom and the principal’s office

Limewire is a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing program, often utilized to illegally download music and movies online. According to the English Wikipedia:

LimeWire uses the gnutella network and also the BitTorrent protocol. A free software version and a purchasable “enhanced” version are available. The software is developed by Lime Wire LLC, which is a subsidiary of Lime Group. BitTorrent support is provided by libtorrent.

Earlier this month, the RIAA filed legal documents asking for the shutdown of Limewire, and last week eight music companies filed a joint lawsuit against Limewire accusing the company of “massive copyright infringement.” Despite these legal battles, Limewire continues to be an extremely popular P2P program and is probably a software name teens are as a familiar with these days as Microsoft Office.

Since our family moved to Oklahoma four years ago and I started working with K12 schools here, I’ve encountered Limewire in several educational contexts. While I was still working for AT&T, I was surprised to learn about one of our schools whose director of technology had actually created custom firewall port rules for himself to use Limewire. While P2P programs can be used for licit filesharing, the vast majority of usage of these programs is illegitimate / illegal. Whether you are a technology director, a classroom teacher, a librarian, a principal or a student in a K-12 school, I’d find it difficult to accept any argument which could be put forward for the legitimate and legal need to use a P2P program like Limewire at school. Using P2P programs like this can not only be illegal (depending on the files which are shared or downloaded) but it can also be a BIG security risk from a malware perspective. (Lots of malware gets distributed as P2P files.) Unfortunately, the technology director in that school has not been the only Oklahoma educator I’ve encountered who openly uses Limewire at school.

In our Celebrate Oklahoma Voices workshops on digital storytelling, we spend time discussing copyright, intellectual property issues, Creative Commons and fair use. We do NOT have a discussion of P2P programs like Limewire in our curriculum, but after several conversations in workshops this spring and summer I’m thinking we should. This is a photograph I took recently of Limewire running on an Oklahoma teacher’s classroom computer, where it was being used by the teacher’s child to download music. (Note the “date” this photo is shown as being taken is this evening when I edited this image, NOT the actual date when I took this photo – which I do not wish to publicly disclose.)

Limewire running on a school PC

I asked the teacher after we left the room and her child if she knew what the program “Limewire” was and what it was used for, and she said she did not. I explained it was used to share files, and often to download illegal copies of music and movies. I encouraged her to have a conversation with her child about the use of that software.

Unfortunately, I have not only talked with Oklahoma classroom teachers who have used (or permitted the use of) Limewire in their classroom, but also Oklahoma principals. One principal who participated in our COV workshop in the past had mentioned that s/he (I won’t disclose the gender of this individual) “could just download that song from Limewire” to use in their project. We explicitly address copyright and intellectual property issues in our workshop to encourage both understanding and respect for U.S. law, so a comment like this FROM A CAMPUS ADMINISTRATOR was and is really troubling.

All of these situations raise tough and delicate issues. These uses of Limewire on public school networks are almost certainly illegal and out-of-bounds from a propriety standpoint. As a workshop facilitator and guest in school districts, however, it places me in a difficult situation to report these alleged illegal and unethical acts. That is particularly true when the person who admits to using the P2P program is a campus administrator.

I’m going to suggest to our Storychasers leadership team that we include a specific discussion of P2P file sharing programs, including Limewire, as part of our phase 1 workshop agenda / curriculum. These situations highlight the importance of discussing intellectual property issues in professional development workshops with teachers. They also, however, raise “whistleblower” issues that I’m dealing with more frequently these days. Everyone likes to be praised publicly, but no one likes to be criticized. I am frequently having to censor what I write and share on my blog because of the waves of negative feedback I’m certain allegations of wrongful behavior or unprofessional conduct would have on me personally and the organizations which I represent professionally. These are very important ethical issues, and I am not convinced I’ve handled all of them in the best way I could in the past. Perhaps we should have a way of documenting and reporting these situations as workshop facilitators for Storychasers, and then leave it up to our organization to take the situations up with respective district administrators? (Since I’m the executive director of Storychasers that doesn’t put me out of the decision-making hotseat, but at least it would establish a procedure I can follow along with others when we encounter issues like these.)

Have you run into situations like this at your own school, at other schools, or when leading professional development workshops? If you become aware of a teacher, librarian, technology director, technician, or campus principal using a P2P program like Limewire, how do you handle it? If you’re not in that person’s “chain of command” and/or are employed by the district, does that make the way you handle the situation any different?

Limewire logo
Creative Commons License photo credit: adria.richards

It would be nice if it was possible to be the bearer of criticism and avoid being shot as the messenger of bad news, but unfortunately that is not always the case in many organizations– including public schools.

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2 responses to “Limewire in the classroom and the principal’s office”

  1. Wesley Fryar Avatar
    Wesley Fryar

    Oddly we have the same name off by one letter… LOL

    What you are saying is absolutely correct. Educators should be setting an example. I believe the old saying lead, follow or get out of the way applies. When we set bad examples either through ignorance or intent, we do our kids a disservice. There are many who say the recording and movie industries are out of line with pricing and usage restrictions (and yes I am one of those people,) but the rules are the rules.

    My own son said only two weeks ago how he used Limewire to download something on my home network. My reaction was such that he thought he had set off a volcano. Not only is it stealing but your point about malware and viruses are of major concern. It is worth the dollar or so to buy it. No bugs… No men in dark suits with writs in hand!!!

    I do not know that I would go as far as to say that Limewire should be shut down. That seems harsh. Legal action and education is the key. Educators also need to be in the loop and have a zero tolerance policy on campus for sure.

    We all know what happened to Napster, and low and behold, they are now doing well owned by Best Buy.

    I really did enjoy the article. Thanks!

    By the way, my son had to delete the music he had downloaded on Limewire and pay me a dollar for every song. He is banned from his computer and iPod and I have money for poker night. I will buy the music for him after his punishment is over, but he gets to think about it in silence for another week.

  2. RustyBadger Avatar

    While I agree that educators and administrators should lead by example and not run questionable or ‘grey area’ software on their computers- just as we expect them to not have porn on their machines (even if it’s legal), we do need to hold our leaders to high (and higher) standards than we might otherwise expect from people.

    Even here in Canada, where it’s perfectly legal to download music for your personal use, it’s still not legal to download music for classroom use- so why would you be using a school computer for that activity? Do it on your home network.

    Mr. Fryar, you should have gone for statutory damages from your son- you could have paid off your mortgage!

    I work in the technology department for our school district, and I often see Limewire on our teachers’ computers. Of course, we block all the ports for P2P protocols, so it doesn’t work unless they are at home, but I still give them a tsk tsk about it. We also suggest that they keep their personal iTunes accounts separate from their work computers in order to avoid inadvertent infringement. Fortunately, we now have a blanket license from SOCAN to play whatever music we want in classrooms and public areas of the schools, so it’s a bit of a moot point- but as the district copyright officer, I try to keep people informed, even though I’m hardly stomping around in jackboots yelling “NO MUSIC FOR YOU!” at them!

    As for W. Fryer’s point about ‘whistleblowing’, I personally would not rat anyone out for copyright infringement of the sort we see in schools. I’m not talking about some guy selling bootleg CDs and DVDs out of a suitcase at the metro station, I’m talking about the kind of infringement engaged in by the vast majority of people who have a personal computer and an internet connection- that of casual downloading (or sharing of media, even) for personal use. For one thing, the statutory damages for such activity are ludicrous and criminal in themselves; and the damage to a person’s reputation and career would be irreparable if they were accused of such activity. It’s not worth it in my mind. If the individual were my report, I’d ask them to stop doing it at work, or on district-owned equipment (and in fact, our Acceptable Use Policy expressly forbids it); and if they were my peer or superior, I’d just shut up. But I’d never report them to anyone, it’s just not worth it. Ever since the ‘dark suits’ have taken over the copyright ‘industry’, it’s been impossible to have a reasoned discussion on the topic, which is kind of too bad.

    Definitely, though- principals and other school staff should not even have programs like Limewire installed on their computers, period. Even in countries with more reasonable attitudes towards filesharing!