CHAPEL HILL -- In March, Denise Rodriguez downloaded the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" to her computer. A few days later, she faced the real inconvenient truth -- UNC had cut off her Internet service.Rodriguez had used a file-sharing program after one of her professors asked her class to watch the movie. Before she could watch the copy she'd downloaded, Paramount Pictures, which owns the legal rights to the film, contacted the university about copyright infringement."It was such a headache," said Rodriguez, a junior public policy major. "This was during exam time, and obviously I was watching this movie for the exam."Rodriguez is a part of the 15 million households in the United States that have at least one person who downloads or shares files or programs illegally, according to the NDP Group, a global provider of consumer and retail market research information for a range of industries.Colleges across the country are hot spots for illegal downloads; the Recording Industry Association of America targeted 22 universities nationwide in September alone, sending more than 400 pre-litigation settlement letters, which give students a chance to resolve the claims at a discounted rate before a formal lawsuit is filed. Individual companies also contact schools about illegal downloads, as was the case with Paramount."What makes it illegal is that it's copyright infringement," said Laura Gasaway, associate dean for academic affairs of the UNC School of Law and professor of law. Gasaway has taught a "Cyberspace Law" course each spring semester since 1997. "It's a copyright violation, and it's using the Internet in order to do it," she said.At UNC, Information Technology Services (ITS) officials said students have gotten in trouble for illegal file transfers more this year than in previous years.Through a series of programs, ITS tries to teach students ways they could download music legally -- namely, through programs that require payment per file or through Ruckus, a program for which the university pays in advance to allow students to download song files to computers for free."You have to protect the artists and the listeners and make sure they're appreciating the music legally," said Jeremy Buenviaje, assistant program director for residential networking, education and technology at the university. "Awareness is the key." When a student is caught downloading files illegally, ITS sends the student an e-mail about the offense, as well as the fact that the student's Internet service has been cut off. The irony is not lost on the punished student."You can't check your e-mail if you don't have Internet," said William Chapman, a freshman biology major who downloaded three movies -- "Breach," "Serenity" and "Hot Fuzz."Students also have to discuss the implications of their actions in a meeting with a university official.Some students are confused about why they get the e-mail.Katie Berryann, a freshman English major, said the file she got called in for -- "Layla" by Eric Clapton -- was something that she hadn't downloaded at school. But she got into trouble after Limewire, her file-sharing program, started uploading her files to other computers without her realizing it. The program was automatically set to upload her files to other users who wanted them, and she hadn't known to change the settings."I hadn't been downloading for very long, and I got caught, like, instantly," she said.Although other Internet service providers have the same obligation to try to prevent the use of the Internet for copyright infringement, the university is in a better position to punish users who violate the law, Gasaway of the law school said."When you're in the dorm, it's easier to track," she said, "and the university doesn't want to be liable."Luke Rollins, a junior comparative literature major, was downloading high-resolution episodes of "The Sopranos" from his dorm room when he was caught.An equal-size file would have taken more than a day to download when dial-up was the norm, but Rollins said that even with a slow connection that often got disrupted, the episodes took him about 16 hours each. The same advances in technology that are making it possible for iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.com to sell video downloads legally in a reasonable amount of time are making it more convenient -- and more common -- for people such as Rollins to download the same content illegally.Rollins said he also thinks illegal downloads are rampant among college students because they get started at a young age.He remembers "The Godfather" trilogy being among his first illegal downloads when he was 14 or 15. Rollins blames his parents."They wouldn't let me watch rated-R movies," he said, "so I would just download them off the Internet."Now Rollins' 12-year-old brother is following in his footsteps."My brother is on the Internet all the time downloading movies, music and games constantly," Rollins said. "As soon as he learned how to do it from my brother and me this summer, he did it."