Universities in hot water over students' peer-to-peer sharing

Students sharing copyrighted files through university networks are landing their institutions in hot water. But with new legislation about to come into force, where do we stand now?

The battle against online piracy is heating up: a new artist led initiative is taking on the diplomatic and negotiation approach whereas governments and legislators are hitting down punitive policies on their citizens.

Jon Newton of p2pnet, alongside Billy Bragg, musician and director of the Featured Artists Coalition, have begun work on a2f2a.com, a campaign started to discuss how artists can cut out the middleman - such as the suicide inducing RIAA - and ensure artists are fairly remunerated.

Along with their mission statement, the efforts seem to be focused towards not only admitting there is no technological solution to the problems artists already face, but that users would be "willing to pay for music if they can be sure that the money is going to the artists whose work they enjoy.”

File sharing itself is not illegal; what is shared, exactly, could be. With BitTorrent being used to distribute emerging artists' music on a wide and free scale, or services such as BBC iPlayer which rely on peer-to-peer technology to reduce the load on the central services - file sharing technology cannot be simply eradicated.

But universities are now suffering as a result of students taking advantage of the high speeds and the seemingly free access to all network resources. inQuire, the student led newspaper of Kent Union, of which I am an elected officer (see disclosure), reports the implications of students infringing their university's network regulations.

Many universities are forced to withdraw access to students' IT accounts to force them to see the IT department, to then explain to the student that what they are doing is against the law.

There are dozens of reports a year from campus to campus from organisations such as Paramount, Columbia, the RIAA and Tristar as a result of students' copyright infringement. But because students are downloading music, films, software and other copyrighted media from their campus accommodation or the university library, those monitoring (see the video) see the originating IP address dedicated to that university. Unless the university can pin the blame on a student - which, rightfully so - then the university could be sued as a result.

The printed article stated the views of the students are:

"...that the issue of illegal file-sharing 'was just more propaganda' spread by the 'big corporations as they are scared senseless that their sown-up distribution network could be threatened', and wanted to 'preserve their roles as cultural gatekeepers'".

Also this week, the European Parliament has pushed through with plans to allow governments of EU countries to cut off persistent file sharers from the web.

As I reported around this time last year, the French government was already enacting this but other member states were holding back on the plans. Now it seems that this is going to be rolled out more further afield across Europe. The unfortunately-rejected amendment was meant to protect citizens from having their Internet access automatically disconnected.

Peter Mandelson, a British cabinet member, remains adamant on tightening up the rules to ensure that those in breach of the law will be cut off. This, even though the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, agrees with not only Finland but also this lowly blogger that, "people are as entitled to Internet access as to gas, water and electricity".

According to the BBC article:

At network level, Internet service providers are able, if asked, to identify the particular machines from which music or other content is being illegally downloaded. But non-network piracy methods, including using instant messaging, e-mail, music blogs, Bluetooth and iPod ripping, are on the rise.

"It is likely that legislation will be too slow to catch pirates", thinks Forrester Research analyst, Mark Mulligan.

While France's three-strike system is now in effect, where those caught sharing copyrighted material a third time will have their Internet access disconnected for up to a year, the UK's file sharing policy will be finalised and published before Christmas this year.

You can bet that this blogger will be sharing his thoughts as and when that happens. For the time being, would you like to share anything?

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