Illegal Downloading over ResNet

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Students on campus are being firmly reminded of the consequences of illegal downloading through ResNet by computer services provider ISS. The problem, which has increased significantly over the last two years, has led to concerns about 2008’s removal of connection restrictions, which increased access to services such as Xbox Live.

Andrew Meikle, head of CIS within ISS, told SCAN that levels of “complaints from outside companies is now at around one a day. When you consider that is about 300 students a year put up in front of the Dean, that is a concern.”

Meikle stated that the University is being “brought into disrepute” by complaints from outside organisations. Copyright abuse becomes a matter aired at a hearing with the University Dean, Dr Matt Storey, at which point ISS are not involved any longer. A fine is then usually imposed on the offending student.

Andrew Lucas, Information Officer for ISS, emphasised the consequences as potentially more than a fine, saying “it is worth noting that some professions require that no offences are recorded on a student’s record during their time at Lancaster. Students going into Law or Medicine should be aware that being caught abusing copyright could seriously affect their career in the future.”

A 25 gigabyte per month usage cap on Network Address Translator (NAT) connections will now be introduced as, Meikle explained, only a “minority” of students ever reach that cap. Those that do are “probably” downloading copyrighted material, or have been compromised through a virus. These changes will not be made until October 2010 at the earliest.

Students coming close to the cap could receive an email from ISS informing them of this to ascertain why. Meikle told SCAN that if the student could not explain the vast usage “then we would have to have a conversation [with the student] about viruses.”

NAT connections are used by a number of applications that essentially do not use a web browser, including Xbox Live and peer to peer applications. ISS are unsure whether BBC iPlayer’s download manager connects via NAT, raising questions about downloading large, high definition video files. ISS have confirmed that there will be no limits the streaming services of iPlayer or other websites such as YouTube.

Meikle pointed to the agreements all students see when they first connect to ResNet, with a separate, smaller agreement focussing purely on illegal downloading. It details UK copyright law and the potential consequences for students clearly, with the aim to make it simple to understand, particularly for international students.

Meikle added that ISS are not actively hunting for people downloading copyrighted material. Lucas reiterated this point, stating that “ISS do not […] take action without a valid complaint being made.” ISS can, however, use logs of web cache usage, including connections to web addresses made by individual computers, to verify outside complaints. Meikle insisted that this is only ever used if a complaint about a student has been received. Dr Storey has stated that “we certainly don’t go looking around in anyone’s private correspondence. That’s nothing to do with us.”

In September 2008, restrictions on NAT across ResNet were relaxed, in order to improve the student experience for services such as Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. It was considered that copyright abuse would increase as a result of these changes, but Lucas said “it was hoped at the time that copyright abuse would be self limiting due to the actions of the University Deanery.” Meikle assured SCAN that reverting to the previous internet usage restrictions would be a last resort, and that there were no suggestions that the University were pushing a reversal.

ISS currently have no policy regarding acting on student confessions of illegal downloading. Meikle suggested that, if he were in this situation, he would show the student the sheer amount of complaints ISS receive, rather than informing the Dean.

Student opinion on ISS’ policy is varied. A third year student was concerned that there might be “an invasion of privacy”, and added that “the 25 gigabyte limit sounds a bit low.” A student in Lonsdale said “I know someone who was affected by this, and she has stopped downloading now she’s paid her fine – it is probably for the best.”

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