Anti-Piracy Outfit Sends Porn ‘Fines’ to University

An anti-piracy outfit working on behalf of porn studios has surprised 'pirate' students with demands for cash. The University of California passed on the $300 threats from CEG TEK alongside suggestions to pay up, but advice given by a campus computer science professor could put even more people at risk.

pirate-cardFor more than a decade copyright holders have been sending out warnings and threats to people they believe have downloaded and shared content without permission. In 2015 the practice is now at unprecedented levels.

While some might agree that targeting student pirates is fair game, it can cause issues. The RIAA got the ball rolling more than ten years ago but abandoned the practice amid public outcry – and after having new laws passed which compel educational establishments to deal with the issue or lose funding.

But while receiving a notice about an unauthorized music download is one thing, receiving a threat over porn downloads is something entirely different. Nevertheless, students are now receiving cash demands from anti-piracy companies acting on behalf of the adult industry which include the titles of the movies allegedly downloaded.

Two such cases have just been documented by the University of California in Santa Barbara. The University reports that the Associated Students Legal Resources Center received two cases inside a week after students were sent threats by anti-piracy outfit CEG TEK via the University’s Information Technology Office and Cox Communications.

The threats included demands for $300, which AS Legal Resource Center attorney Robin Unander told the University’s Daily Nexus were deterrent amounts and not designed to be compensation.

“Right now it seems that the intent from CEG Tek is to make aware to students to stop,” Unander said.

Sadly, Unander is seems unaware of CEG Tek’s business model. The outfit regularly demands much higher sums, up to several thousand dollars, and is very clear that payments are to be made to avoid legal action.

ceg-tek

Unander also advises students who are caught by CEG TEK to comply with the cash demands but CEG TEK have no history of ever carrying a threat through to its conclusion. Indeed, the company has no idea who they are targeting since their threats are forwarded by ISPs to users and only they know the identity of the recipient.

But while the advice given above may be a little wide of the mark, comments made by UCSB computer science professor Giovanni Vigna are of greater concern. From the Daily Nexus:

Computer science professor Giovanni Vigna said he thinks the students who allegedly downloaded the porn illegally made their usage easy to track by using a website like BitTorrent.com, which makes it accessible for anyone, including anti-piracy firms, to see what they have downloaded

Of course, BitTorrent.com certainly isn’t offering porn downloads to anyone but it’s the subsequent advice that raises the biggest alarm. Things start off well, however.

“If people use well-known content distribution networks, those users can be easily tracked,” Vigna said.

Fair enough, but then Vigna suggests that if BitTorrent users only download and don’t continue to seed once the file is complete, they wouldn’t have received a threat.

“After [students have] downloaded, they make [the files] available to the rest of the world and they usually raise a sort of alarm. If they would have probably taken the porn and movies out of their disk right away, they probably wouldn’t have been targeted,” Vigna said.

The advice is poor. What many BitTorrent users don’t appreciate is that anti-piracy companies monitor torrents of their clients’ content all the time and they don’t care whether users have some or all of the file. Once people start participating in a swarm, whether that’s downloading, uploading or both (such is the nature of BitTorrent) they can and will be tracked by companies such as CEG TEK.

While it’s now clear that the University of California forwards CEG TEK cash demands to students, they’re not the only ones. According to the Cashman Law Firm, Rice University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Stanford University, University of Michigan, Wisconsin University and the University of Alaska all comply with the company’s requests.

Finally, other anti-piracy companies see an alternative solution to the problem of campus file-sharing. Yesterday digital fingerprinting company Audible Magic debuted a new version of its CopySense system.

CopySense can monitor campus networks for users attempting to download and share content on peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent. Using a built-in database of digital fingerprints of music and movies, CopySense is able to detect attempts by users to download or share infringing content. They are then directed to a landing page informing them of the University’s network policies.

“Sharing of non-copyrighted files on P2P networks is ignored, thus allowing the campus to embrace and allow P2P file sharing for non-infringing uses,” the company says.

While that will be some comfort to users, the fact that everything they do is being spied on by Audible Magic will probably not.

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