University Begins Reporting All P2P Users to the Police

Georgia's Valdosta State University has updated its network with software that can pinpoint students who use P2P software. The university is committed to stop file-sharing on its network even if that results in prison sentences for students. Offenders will be disciplined by the school and then handed over to the police, the university has announced.

vsuIn recent years, US colleges and universities have undertaken measures to reduce piracy, and go after students who use file-sharing networks to share copyrighted files.

In July, the US put into effect a new requirement for colleges and universities to stop illicit file-sharing on their networks. This legislation puts defiant schools at risk of losing federal funding if they don’t do enough to stop illicit file-sharers on their campus.

Schools across the country responded appropriately to the new rules and some have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to install anti-file-sharing systems on their network. This week, Valdosta State University (VSU) upgraded theirs. According to the university it can now identify students who use P2P software, and those who are caught will be reported to the police.

“Once individuals are identified, VSU hands responsibility over to police. Users can face felony punishments, including a possible prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000 per offense,” reports the student newspaper.

The new system is undoubtedly going to cause collateral damage, since an effective P2P detection tool will be unable to make a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate use of P2P software. This means that booting up your BitTorrent client to download free films such as Snowblind will result in a referral to the police station.

To some these measures may appear as a witch-hunt against students using P2P software, but Joe Newton, VSU Director of Information Technology, sees it as a form of education.

“As an institution of higher learning, we will take an educational approach to the problem and use approved campus procedures to reach appropriate resolutions,” he said.

Combating piracy is not a new endeavor for the Georgia university. VSU already had anti-piracy tracking tools installed, but with the old system it was not possible to identify individual users. In addition, the old system was increasingly being bypassed by certain branches of P2P software.

“Over this past summer, ‘Ares’, a new P2P program/protocol became popular among college students. Ares allows its users to evade school network controls that limit P2P use,” it was reported.

Those who are ‘educated’ on P2P technologies do of course know that this application is hardly new. In fact, the first version was released back in 2002, long before BitTorrent clients such as uTorrent and Vuze emerged.

It seems that VSU’s harsh talk is part of a scare campaign to prohibit students from using P2P software. We doubt that the police will be involved at all, and if they are it seems unlikely that they will take any form of action without a complaint from a rightsholder.

Update September 15: VSU Director of IT Joe Newton came out with a response to the news today. “The Spectator article was, unfortunately, factually in error. While our process is not yet defined, we currently do not hand over students to the Police nor have we purchased software to hunt them down and I cannot foresee that we would ever do so.”

Update September 16: We received the following response from VSU Chief Information Security Officer William Moore “There are many beneficial uses of P2P file sharing and the University does allow use of approved P2P type programs including those used for software patching and other academic uses. Our stance is the “unauthorized” use of P2P software is a violation of policy which is intended to keep nonacademic uses from overwhelming institutional bandwidth; however, appropriate uses of P2P software can be approved and are not a violation of institutional policy.”

Update September 16: We received the following response from The Spectator’s Editor-in-Chief Amy Johstono. “Joe Newton is correct in that police never have been and are not currently involved with tracking file sharers. The reporter misunderstood the information he was given. Valdosta State University only limits P2P sharing so to save bandwidth. The IT department receives reports on copy right infringement violations from companies like ISACA, RIAA, MPAA, etc. and consults the the individual user about the incident. If they are found to be in violation of copy right law, they are reprimanded as per VSU’s Student Code of Conduct. If the offended party decides to pursue the situation further, the student can then face charges related to copy right infringement.”

It turns out that the writer of the article mistook a standard copyright infringement warning (where third party investigators monitor file-sharing networks) for a new university policy. The original article where we took the quotes form has been pulled now.

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