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The number of students caught downloading copyrighted material continues to rise despite increased publicity from ISS.
Of the 54 disciplinary cases handled so far this year by the University Dean, Dr Matt Storey, the majority have been copyright infringement.
“Copyright infringement is the bulk of our workload at the moment, unfortunately,” said Storey. “I would very much like to not have to deal with it.”
Following the relaxation of campus residence networks two years ago ISS began monitoring downloads. Before this students living on campus were unable to use facilities such as Skype and video conferencing. However, this release has allowed a noticeable increase in illegal downloads.
“[We wanted] to give students a better experience; there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have the ability to do things like video conferencing,” said Storey. “[Unfortunately] when you allow that you open up the network so you can communicate using traceable mechanisms.”
Over the last two years ISS has attempted to publicise the dangers of illegal downloading, most notably through ResNet agreements. It has also been possible to identify students most likely to download illegally, especially some international students who come from countries with different copyright laws to the UK. ISS has worked with the International Students’ Advisory Service to raise awareness of British laws.
“We are trying to get the information out there but it would appear that we’re not being very successful,” Storey commented.
Student opinion of ISS’s copyright campaign is mixed, ranging from “It is an invasion of privacy. [I’m] not sure if that is really any of their business” to “If there is illegal activity on campus they should have the right to deal with it as they see fit. As long as you are innocent this isn’t a problem.”
Some students were extremely vocal in their disapproval of the idea of the university spying on Internet usage. One fourth-year economics student said that “they have better things to do with their time, like improving student welfare.”
Storey stressed that although the university has a legal duty to monitor Internet use this is only to ensure compliance with the network’s Acceptable Use Policy.
“We monitor activity in the way that we have to to provide the service that we do,” he said. “We certainly don’t go looking around in anyone’s private correspondence. That’s nothing to do with us.”
Other than the large number of copyright infringement cases, the year has been relatively quiet in terms of discipline. Overall university figures show similar or, for some colleges, fewer cases requiring intervention from college or university deans.
As University Dean, Storey only becomes involved in a disciplinary case if it is especially severe or involves students from several colleges. The majority of disciplinary work is carried out within colleges by the College Dean and Assistant Deans. The most frequent causes of a disciplinary investigation in all colleges are noise, damage to university property and fire equipment and smoking.
Procedure for beginning and carrying out an investigation can vary slightly from college to college. Generally, however, incidents are reported to the College Dean by the porters or the College Office and then investigated by Assistant Deans. Meetings between the students involved and the Dean are held to establish the particulars of a case and, if necessary, a disciplinary hearing is called.
“An offence need not be serious before it becomes a hearing,” said Dr Steve Dempster, Dean of County College. “A hearing is called if there is a clear indication that a breach of university regulations has occurred.”
A decision is then taken on whether a penalty, usually in the form of a fine, should be imposed.
“If a fine is deemed appropriate, mitigation expressed by the student and steps taken by the perpetrator to make good to those he or she has harmed is always taken into account in the level of fine levied,” said Dempster. He added that the majority of students are willing to be held accountable for their actions and few take up their right of appeal to the University Dean.
Storey agreed, saying “A lot of people respond very well to knowing that something was taken care of in the case and that the people who perpetrated it didn’t realise it was [so] serious.”
Where a penalty is incurred, fines of up to £250 – £300 for tampering with fire equipment – can be given. Financial penalties are by far the most common, through Storey said that the university is “always on the lookout for a different mechanism.” A community service scheme in conjunction with LUVU had been discussed in the past but had to be put aside due to the complexity of organisation and health and safety issues.
One of the most important roles in the security of residences and those living within them is that of the porters. Often responsible for instigating the disciplinary procedure by reporting incidents to college Assistant Deans, porters deal with a wide range of problems, from lost keys to fire alarms being set off.
One porter, who wished to remain anonymous, drew attention to a recent article in the Lancaster Guardian which praised Lancaster University for having some of the best campus security in the country. He explained that the porters patrol the colleges regularly to check that everything is safe, and that the role of the porter is simply to help the students.
“There can be quiet nights, and there can be nights where we go out on patrol at midnight and don’t come back for hours because there is so much happening,” said another porter.
Porters are trained in basic first aid, but one porter said that if there was a first aid problem on campus they would immediately call the nurse unit and tell the on-call nurse to attend. This is not only a safer option for the student, but the safer option legally for the porters in case anything were to go wrong. In extreme cases an ambulance would be called and it would then be the porter’s responsibility to direct the crew to the necessary location.
Although most common situations require just a letter from the Dean and a report from the porter, more serious cases can necessitate a call to security or even the police becoming involved.
There is a police officer posted on campus and there are always three security guards ready to help when necessary. More serious cases that have occurred include a drunk student driving a car directly at a porter and two students running round campus setting off fire alarms in the early hours of the mornings.
However, such incidents are rare, and when they do happen they are dealt with swiftly. The porters’ main concern is with the welfare of the students. “It boils down to teamwork; it’s about the porters’ relationship with security, and it works well,” said one member of the team.