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Ohio Prison Guards Use JPay System to Illegally Download Thousands of Copyrighted Songs

Ohio’s top watchdog has recommended that the use of state owned computers by employees of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) should be heavily restricted to prevent prison guards from again illegally downloading music or other copyrighted material onto their work computers.

The recommendation comes after Ohio’s Office of the Inspector General was tipped off that ODRC guards at four state prisons had downloaded at least 3,764 copyrighted songs (or 48.9 GB of information) for free off the prisons’ data services.

The songs were stored in a computer library of 53,000 ODRC approved audio files available for purchase by state prisoners and sold by Florida based prison profiteer JPay, which, in addition to charging prisoners’ families high fees for money transfers, sells prisoners its own brand of MP3 players and tablets, sold as the JP3 and JP4, respectively.

The inspector general’s investigation of the illegal downloads found that 16 guards total, working at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, and the Chillicothe, Lorain and Madison Correctional Institutions, began downloading copies of the songs as early as July 2012, when JPay first made the music available for purchase at ORDC prisons.

By February 2014, an ODRC employee identified as Rich Hamlin, and infrastructure specialist at the Madison facility, had discovered that “ORDC staff members at various institutions had found a gateway into the JPay system on the institutional data servers which allowed the staff members access to download or copy recordings of songs without permission or payment”, according to the inspector general’s investigative report.

The number of songs each guard illegally downloaded ranged from 33 music files (.25 GB), the total downloaded by Lorain guard David Ticherich.  During an interview with investigators, Ticherich admitted he downloaded the files, and said he learned of the so called gateway to the JPay library “by word of mouth and heard others discussing the folder at the institution”, the investigative report said.

Edwin Diaz, another guard at the Lorain facility, illegally downloaded 552 songs, as well as a full version of the movie “Repo Men”, for a total of 11.17 GB of information on the prison’s server.  But not only did Diaz deny downloading the movie, he also claimed ignorance of the law.

“I really did not know it was illegal to do that [copy audio files]”, Diaz told investigators.  “So, I mean it’s…if I would have known I would have never done anything like that.  I would have never transferred the music or anything”.

At least half the guards who illegally downloaded music either claimed they were unaware of copyright laws or they assumed that if others were doing it, they could also.

“…I mean if somebody would have told me it was an issue, I would have deleted all the music and I would  have never went into the folder”, Jayme Weber, a guard at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, told investigators.  “I mean, I just thought by word of mouth, that was okay to do”.

Still, as the report pointed out, all of the guards signed a “System Access Request” form before they were given access to each prison’s computer system.  The form, citing both ODRC policy and copyright laws, prohibits the guards from using their ODRC computer accounts “for recreational purposes, such as downloading or playing computer games, gambling, or to send, distribute or solicit sexually oriented messages, materials or images”.

More importantly, it also prohibits guards from using their ODRC accounts “to download, distribute or print copyrighted materials, including articles, books, software, or images in violation of copyright laws”.

Though the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency told the inspector general’s office that it would not pursue criminal charges against any of the 16 guards because there was no evidence of “sale for profit of the copies audio files”, the inspector general’s report still determined that “a wrongful act” had occurred.

The report recommended that ODRC should “remove all non-work related data stored within employee user files”, as well as “disable the ability for employees to save data and files to the local hard drive of state owned computers used by ODRC employees”.

It also recommended that ODRC should “develop and implement a policy regulating the use of the JPay system”.

The inspector general’s report made no recommendations, however, regarding disciplinary action or employment for the guards.

Source:  “Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction File ID#:2014-CA00022”, report by the State of Ohio Office of the Inspector General, April 2015;

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