Girl Busted For Pirating ‘Chicken Run’ Provides Food For Thought

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News from the BBC that a UK teenager has been banned from accessing her university's wifi after getting caught for a pirate download seemed straightforward enough. However, on closer inspection, the story about an illegal Chicken Run download is actually a really nice example of several key file-sharing issues, all wrapped up in an innocuous looking package.

This past Thursday the BBC published an article about Gianna Mulville-Zanetta, a first year Social Policy student at Bristol University in the UK.

After getting caught downloading the stop-motion comedy-drama film Chicken Run using BitTorrent, the 18-year-old reportedly felt the wrath of the university’s IT department.

“I completely forgot I had downloaded it,” Gianna told the BBC.

“I got an email the day after I watched it on Netflix with my friend saying I had been removed from Eduroam – which is our wifi. It took about a day or more to download and that’s why I forgot I had it, it took forever.”

For her sins, Gianna was blocked from using the university’s wifi for 20 days, a period that coincided with her exams. With access to a 4G connection she says the ban didn’t affect her studies but of course, the potential for chaos was certainly there.

There appears to be no doubt that Gianna committed an infringement. However, that someone who prefers to watch something legally on Netflix gets caught up in something like this is pretty disappointing. But not a complete surprise.

Chicken Run was released in 2000 but only 12 years later did it appear on UK Netflix. According to New on Netflix, it was withdrawn from Netflix during November 2013, put back on two years later in 2015, removed a year later in 2016, and was only re-added on May 1 this year.

Considering the BBC states that the Chicken Run affair “has ruined much of May for Gianna”, the ban must’ve kicked in early this month. That means that Chicken Run was either not on UK Netflix when Gianna decided on her download, or had only been there for a day or two. Either way, if there had been less yo-yo’ing of its availability on Netflix, it’s possible this whole affair could’ve been completely avoided.

Moving on, the BBC article states that Gianna was “caught out by the university’s IT department.” Student newspaper The Tab makes a similar assumption, claiming that Gianna was “busted by an elite team of University IT technicians.”

However, those familiar with these issues will know that the ‘blame’ should be placed elsewhere, i.e., on rightsholders who are filing complaints directly with the university. The tactic is certainly an interesting one.

Despite there being dozens of residential ISPs the copyright holders could focus on, they choose not to do so outside the limited scope of the Get it Right campaign instead. Knowing that universities come down hard on students seems like a motivating factor here, one that students should be aware of.

The Tab went on to publish a screenshot of the complaint received by Gianna. It’s incomplete, but it contains information that allows us to investigate further.

The note that Gianna’s connection had been suspended to prevent the IT department from “receiving further complaints” is a dead giveaway of rightsholder involvement. But, further down is an even clearer clue that the complaint was made by someone outside the university.

The format used in the complaint is identical to that used by US and Australia-based anti-piracy outfit IP-Echelon. The company is known to work with Paramount Pictures who own the rights to Chicken Run.

In fact, if one searches the filesize referenced in the infringement notice (572,221,548), it’s possible to find an identical complaint processed by VPN service Proxy.sh.

Another Chicken Run complaint

Given the file size, we can further deduce that Gianna downloaded a 720p BrRip of Chicken Run that was placed online by now defunct release team/torrent site YIFY, which has also been referenced in a number of complaints sent to Google.

So what can we conclude from these series of events?

First of all, with less messing around by Paramount and/or Netflix, Gianna might have gone to Netflix first, having seen it previously in the listings on the platform. As it goes, it had been absent for months, having been pulled from the service at least twice before.

Second, we know that at least one person who chose to pirate Chicken Run avoided Gianna’s predicament by using a VPN service. While Gianna found herself disconnected, the VPN user walked away completely unscathed, with Paramount and IP-Echelon complaining to the VPN service and that being the end of the matter.

Third, allowing your real name and a copy of a copyright infringement complaint to be published alongside a confession is a risky business. While IP-Echelon isn’t known for pressuring people to pay settlements in the UK, the situation could have been very different if a copyright troll was involved.

Fourth, we can also conclude that while it’s believed that older content is safer to download, this story suggests otherwise. Chicken Run was released 17 years ago and is still being monitored by rightsholders.

Finally, stories of students getting banned from university Internet access are relatively commonplace in the United States, but the same out of the UK is extremely rare.

In fact, we’re not aware of such exclusions happening on a regular basis anywhere in the region, although Gianna told the BBC that she knows another person who is still being denied access to the Internet for downloading Shrek, another relatively ancient film.

That raises the possibility that some copyright holders have seriously begun targeting universities in the UK. If that’s the case, one has to question what has more value – uninterrupted Internet access while on campus or a movie download.

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