The University of Illinois is taking complaints from copyright holders very seriously by disconnecting pirating students’ Internet connections upon the first warning. After being sanctioned by a hearing officer students are allowed to come back online, but after the third strike they lose their Internet access permanently. University employees are also reprimanded, with one staffer asked to look for a new job after several alleged infringements.
In recent years US colleges and universities have undertaken drastic measures to reduce piracy, but it appears that some students and staffers are proving unteachable.
Every year the RIAA and MPAA send tens of thousands of infringement notices to educational institutions, who then forward these to alleged BitTorrent pirates.
How these suspected pirates are then dealt with depends on local policies but usually it involves a visit to the dean’s office and some sort of sanction.
The University of Illinois, however, is taking it a step further by punishing its students the French way.
When copyright holders send a DMCA notice informing the university about unauthorized BitTorrent downloads, the student’s dorm room is immediately cut off from the Internet.
“Students that receive infringement notices have their access to the internet shut off,” the university’s policy explains loud and clear.
“The user is informed of the requirement to meet with a hearing officer and that their access will remain shut down until such a meeting takes place. The hearing officer will meet with the student to discuss the nature of the violation and University policy regarding copyright infringement.”
The hearing officer can then apply a wide range of punitive and educational sanctions after which the student’s Internet access is eventually restored. However, after the third warning the student will never be allowed to access the Internet again in his or her dorm room, ever.
Brian Mertz, the university’s senior security outreach specialist, says that they receive up to 100 copyright infringement notices a month. This includes warnings for both students and staff.
Christine Svoboda is one of the students who was “caught” last year and it took her almost two weeks to get back online after the first warning. She still has no clue what she did wrong.
“To be completely honest with you, I have absolutely no idea what I downloaded. I have uTorrent on my computer but it was never active at school, and I didn’t use the school’s Internet to download anything like that because it was too slow,” Svoboda told The Daily Illini.
This probably doesn’t come as a complete surprise to Mertz, who noted that not all DMCA notices appear to be accurate. The security specialist said that some warnings do not match up with the activity of the IP-address on the given timestamp. However, these warnings are followed-up regardless.
Interestingly, the rigorous copyright policy also applies to staffers. In fact, Mertz explains that one employee was asked to look for another job after several warnings.
“We can’t get into specifics for HR reasons, but we had one faculty member who had repeat violations and they were actually asked to leave the University because it was such an ongoing problem,” Mertz said.
While people should abide by the rules at work and school, it goes quite far when educational institutions are used as Internet police.
The drastic measures at the University of Illinois do not stand in isolation. In 2010 the U.S. Government added a new requirement for colleges and universities to stop illicit file-sharing on their networks.
This legislation puts a defiant school at risk of losing federal funding if it doesn’t do enough to stop illicit file-sharers on its campus. In response, schools across the country have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars installing anti-file-sharing systems on their networks and updating their policies.
Thanks to the new law, the anti-piracy policies at most universities make the upcoming “six strikes” scheme look like kindergarten.