College students face file sharing penalties under new rules

Summary:College and university students are now facing tough penalties for downloading and sharing illegal files over their institutions networks as of today, sparking anger over academic independence and freedom.

College and university students are now facing tough penalties for downloading and sharing illegal files over their institutions networks as of today.

Universities are a hotbed for illegal downloading and sharing activity, with the vast majority of students using school provided high-speed Internet access to download files in as little as seconds or minutes. As a result, the RIAA and other representative organisations are hitting universities hard with lawsuits and threats in an attempt for these institutions to reclaim control of their own networks.

When a student downloads or shares a file illegally and is spotted by the industry authorities, the university will more often than not inform the student of the action and that their IT account may face sanctions or be monitored. This is a counter-move to attempt to calm the industry authorities as frankly, nobody wants a lawsuit, and it allows the buck to stop with the school for them to take action as they see appropriate.

According to CNET, universities and colleges which receive Title IV federal aid have to implement anti-piracy measures under the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) 2008. This law though designed to implement a round of changes to enable fair and accessible assistance to education for many, also includes provisions supported and backed by the movie and music industries to require these institutions to follow guidelines on illegal file-sharing.

These main guidelines include providing students university policies on file-sharing and understanding of state and federal laws on sharing such files, but more importantly offering alternatives to file-sharing technologies while "combating copyright violations on campus networks using technology-based deterrents".

This could mean that students' IT accounts are suspended entirely, thus email accounts and web access are disallowed by the university. This would this have a clear impact on the level of education they could attain. These measures would only affects US universities, colleges and students, but could have a transcending affect on non-US institutions.

The RIAA has sent over 1.8 million notices to commercial Internet providers since October 2008, with just under 300,000 notices sent to universities worldwide during that same time period. This shows clearly that students are in the sights of the RIAA and the industry authorities and are target accordingly.

Today's new counter-piracy principles will take over the RIAA's tactic of filing and pursuing lawsuits against students which bullied its way through legal action, and take a wider, sweeping approach to the issue. Yet by "using technology-based deterrents" may enact a wave of back-end changes which traditionally are not enabled at university level, such as port blocking, website filtering and monitoring of files and activity.

Suffice to say, with universities being independent areas of freedom for expression, understanding, the sharing of knowledge and the deepening of consideration on wider society, this seriously infringes on almost-sovereign territory.

But if universities bow down to the pressure of the private industry giants, perhaps the institutions themselves should be firm in their position to ensure that they, and their students which pay tens of thousands of dollars each year are not bullied into something they may not be able to stop.

What do you think? Would you be affected?

Topics: Browser

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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