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BitTorrent Inherently Illegal? 857

Posted by Cliff
from the what-a-misconception! dept.
Nohbdy001 asks: "Today I received a letter from my university's network administration advising me that my network access would be terminated due to 'illegal P2P activity.' The P2P activity that the e-mail cited was BitTorrent and the file being transferred was an update to the Azureus BitTorrent client. The letter stated, 'Until the courts decide that student P2P activity is permitted we will continue to block this activity on our network,' implying that BitTorrent is inherently illegal. It seems such misunderstandings are common, but it is particularly frustrating when coming from people in the IT field. How can a student respond to such an accusation in order to defend the validity of BitTorrent and continue to benefit from its legitimate uses?"
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BitTorrent Inherently Illegal?

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  • It's unfortunate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daveschroeder (516195) * on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:31PM (#12049383)
    I don't have any advice in particular. It's unfortunate because this really amounts to censorship and stifling academic freedom. Who's to say that the content you're accessing with a network tool - say, even a web browser - is appropriate? Sure, you can say that downloading pirated software or movies is inappropriate, but, in my opinion, academic institutions should have as hands-off an approach as possible. Illegal content can be accessed via the web, or email. Most would say it's absurd to suggest blocking port 80, or port 25. Why? Why is that any more absurd than blocking something such as BitTorrent, especially as BitTorrent's legitimate applications are increasing?

    During the heyday of Napster, the University of Wisconsin - Madison had a difficult decision. As it watched the traffic for Napster consume over 70% of total inbound bandwidth at its peak, we asked ourselves: do we start blocking Napster? After all, it's mostly used for stealing music. Right?

    Fortunately, the answer was a resounding "No," but not because we condoned illegally downloading copyrighted material. It was because the university didn't want to become de facto censors of information, in any form it may come. We decided that things like Napster were part of the cost of doing business as a major public research university. The solution was to add bandwidth, and deal with the technical aspects of the problem separate from any social aspects that may exist.

    Granted, some smaller institutions might not have been able to afford - economically or legally - to take this stance. But the University of Wisconsin felt it important enough to allow academic freedom and freedom of exchange of information to trump any other potential concerns, real or imagined.

    The university does respond on an individual basis to people clearly running warez servers, owned machines used for warez, specific C&D orders or other notices from copyright holders, etc., but we don't take a proactive approach. In fact, ironically, a proactive approach could be more dangerous, because it may mean that safe harbor provisions of some elements of copyright law (e.g. DMCA) won't apply: an ISP can't be held responsible for things it doesn't know about.
    • How did you post this huge comment and still manage to get first post? im impressed.
    • Re:It's unfortunate (Score:5, Interesting)

      by krumms (613921) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:40PM (#12049518) Journal
      Isn't it great how the music and movie industries can scare universities into policing their laws for them with little more than a few spot searches?
      • by Rei (128717) on Friday March 25, 2005 @05:31PM (#12050138) Homepage
        First off, IANAL. However, the person involved does probably have legal recourse. It's not libel, as some have suggested; the University is not publicly defaming the student, and it'll be hard to prove malice. However, it might be breach of contract.

        For example, in Guckenberger, et. al. V. Trustees of Boston University, et. al, they found the University liable for breach of contract simply by putting out promotional brochures claiming that the university was more accessible to the disabled than it was. In the words of the judge, they "form the basis of an enforceable contractual agreement." This is called "promissory estoppel" [laborlawtalk.com]. Basically, if someone promises something that makes you take actions to your detriment in order to gain that promise (i.e., paying to attend a university under the expectation of having full network services) and then fails to deliver, they're liable to you and you can sue for damages.

        If it's the case of a vague threat of RIAA/MPAA lawsuits that haven't materialized, faced with a very real threat of a student lawsuit, I think they might reconsider. If the student is concerned about this more than just a willingness to post an "ask slashdot", they should start a collection among similarly concerned students and retain a lawyer. Just a letter from a lawyer to the University threatening legal action for their stance would probably be enough, since they don't have any direct threats from the RIAA or MPAA to counterbalance it.
        • Re:It's unfortunate (Score:5, Informative)

          by Ioldanach (88584) on Friday March 25, 2005 @05:41PM (#12050233)
          they should start a collection among similarly concerned students and retain a lawyer.

          Chances are, the college has some form of student union, and student unions typically have access to legal counsel for when students get in trouble. I think this would qualify.

        • Re:It's unfortunate (Score:5, Interesting)

          by mjanosko (777638) on Friday March 25, 2005 @06:39PM (#12050653)
          working in the IT department at a MAJOR U.S. college has taught me a few things. One of them is: you never know what you agreed to. We have a security policy that is roughly 50 pages, and much like EULAs, wether you read it or not, you agree to its terms by using said system. (especially since our school has a user id/password process to get on the networks, and a special housing policy that must be signed.) and basicly in there it says that they can remove access to whatever they want whenever they want, and they can tell you want you cant and cant do at any time. now considering this is outlined in the policy you are agreeing to, i think all other legal precidence goes away. If the school pays the bills and offers the service free, and ESPECIALLY if they have you sign something acknowledging what they can/cant do, they can close anything they want and youre basicly shit out of luck. IANAL. my 2 cents.
          • Re:It's unfortunate (Score:5, Informative)

            by Rei (128717) on Friday March 25, 2005 @07:08PM (#12050837) Homepage
            I just read over every word of the IT license at the university where I work (which I'd take to be a pretty standard IT license), and nothing in there would allow them to do what happened to this student, and certainly is not a situation where one can "remove access to whatever they want whenever they want". The license requires the university to have a justification; there are a number of potential justifications, but none of them are "because we feel like it".

            Given my university's license, about the closest argument that they could make would be "excessive personal use", but even that falls pretty flat on its face, given the letter that the student was sent and the actions that they were taking (downloading a software update) that led to the ban. They certainly weren't doing anything that would fall under violation of local, state, or federal laws; they weren't attempting to disrupt the network; they weren't attempting to invade anyone's privacy; etc. The student didn't fall under any category listed.
          • Re:It's unfortunate (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jrockway (229604) *
            Is this a public (state-funded) University? If no, you can take away any rights you want. If yes, the EFF believes that you cannot:

            http://www.eff.org/Censorship/Academic_edu/CAF/fa q /just-a-privilege [eff.org]

            q: If a state university calls computer or network access a
            "privilege", can they remove an individual's access arbitrarily?

            a: In most cases no.



            Everything in that directory is quite useful for convincing the powers-that-be that their AUP is stupid. I tried here at UIC and just got ignored (and got som
          • by MrResistor (120588)
            If the school pays the bills and offers the service free

            There's nothing free about it. He pays tuition, and a network connection is one of the services he's provided in return.

            If you think that arguement won't fly in court, you're wrong. It will, and it has (I'm specifically thinking of CSU Humboldt, which got sued on that basis when their new library took to long to build. IIRC, the judgement against the school was a few million dollars).

    • Re:It's unfortunate (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hendrix69 (683997) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:42PM (#12049558)
      Bandwidth considerations and legal issues are very different things. You can always limit the bandwidth that's allocated for p2p application in your network. But if RIAA decides to sue the university for huge sums of money it's in for a financial burn. The cost of the legal battle in itself is enough to deter almost any institution.
      Of course I agree that universities should not censor information, especially not in such unclever ways as declaring a protocol illegal. But I can understand why some universities have to kneel before the commerical powers that be.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Time for a feature modification for Bittorrent. Switch to port 443, SSL. (STunnel source is open.)

        They can't even tell what you are doing if this is done. If they can't tell, they cannot be dumb azzes about it.

        Put the trackers on HTTPS also. Allow self signed certs.

        Of course, self signed certs are illegal in some countrys, but not the USA. So it would have to be optional.

    • by bakaorg (870848) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:49PM (#12049660) Homepage
      Many univeristies have an Ombudsman, whose job it is to talk advocate for those trapped in meaningless rules which do not or should not apply.
      • by the way, what're you (591901) on Saturday March 26, 2005 @01:41AM (#12052676)

        And if that doesn't help, talk to your univerity's Omcubsfan. He or she may argue your case strongly at the beginning, but is likely to lose when it really counts. But it's worth a shot.
    • Re:It's unfortunate (Score:5, Interesting)

      by The Snowman (116231) * on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:53PM (#12049698) Homepage

      Why is that any more absurd than blocking something such as BitTorrent, especially as BitTorrent's legitimate applications are increasing?

      Color me naive, but I never realized BitTorrent had a following of pirates until recently. I always saw it billed as a way to grab large files (e.g. Linux ISOs) in a lot less time than HTTP or FTP transfers. In fact that is the only thing I ever use it for. To see organizations ban or restrict it pisses me off.

      Fortunately, the content industries seem to be taking a halfway correct approach: find people violating copyright using a technology, and prosecute those people. Even if BitTorrent gets a bad reputation, there are enough of us using it legitimately that 1) we won't go to jail and 2) BitTorrent will still have a legitimate user base and stay alive (thank you, OSS!).

    • by gnu-generation-one (717590) on Friday March 25, 2005 @05:06PM (#12049858) Homepage
      Surely this is an easy one to answer. The university has accused a student, in writing, of breaking the law [wikipedia.org]

      • No they didn't (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sterno (16320) on Friday March 25, 2005 @06:53PM (#12050741) Homepage
        They did not say that this student was a criminal or what they were doing was criminal. What they said was that, until P2P networks are ruled to be legal by the courts, they would not allow them on campus. That isn't saying that a P2P network is illegal, or that the student's use of it is illegal. It is simply saying that, barring a court ruling that affirms their legality, they aren't going to permit them at all.

        Furthermore, there can be no libel or slander here because this is a private communication between the school and the student. Slander or libel is saying or printing something that is knowingly false about the student for others to see. It's a matter of damaging somebody's reputation. If the school and the student are the only ones privee to the communication, how can their reputation be damaged.
    • Re:It's unfortunate (Score:3, Interesting)

      by David Horn (772985)
      My University has a very enlightened policy - no ports whatsoever are blocked and any application will work, which is great for Bittorrent and other applications that need transparent net access.

      However, if they receive information from outside the university (ie, from the RIAA) then they will take action and disconnect the user from the network.

      This seems reasonable to me as only people actually breaking the law will suffer, and the legitimate users will be allowed to continue.
    • Like daveschroeder said: BitTorrent is neither legal nor illegal. It is the sharing of specific files in violation of copyright which are illegal, and that would be illegal whether it was done on a website, ftp site or bittorrent.

      The file you have is legal and legally distributed. Period. If they wish to limit your free speech rights on legal speech, that is a first ammendment issue and should be dealt with in a separate court battle.

      If you can find a lawyer to write a letter to that effect for you, it might get their attention. I'm sure you could find a classmate whose parent relative or family friend is a lawyer willing to put a note like that under his/her firm's name. No explict threats -- just a letter from a lawyer.

    • by Audacious (611811) on Friday March 25, 2005 @06:34PM (#12050615) Homepage
      It is unfortunate. But like others here have stated, the thing to do is to NOT do anything rash or is a knee-jerk reaction. Instead, write the dean of the college with a CC to the head of the computing department. Cite the court cases where the judge has found in favor of those using BitTorrent.

      In the letter I would also cite that when cassette tape recorders first came out the music and movie industries screamed and yelled about these items being illegal for the common person to use. Their reasoning was that people would make millions of copies of songs and soundtracks. People did - but no where near as often as the music and movie industries tried to make it out to be. When VCRs first came out the music and movie industry again went to court and fought tooth and nail to prevent people from being able to use that technology. Then laser discs came and they again filed suit. Then CDs came out and they filed suit again. The United States of America was one of the LAST countries to have DVDs because of the music and movie industries lawsuits and lobbying of Congress. In all cases the technology could be used for illegal as well as legal copying of information. Whether songs, movies, or even games. In every single case the courts and Congress together have made it extremely clear that just because there is the opportunity to use a technology for illegal purposes it doesn't mean that everyone is going to use it for that purpose. (After all - cars are used to help bankrobbers, kidnappers, and others yet everyone still drives cars.) Further, after all of the hysteria, screaming, finger pointing, jeering, hyperbole, accusations, misleading and often outright lies propagated by these industries it has always been found that their fears were nothing more than ignorance of how the technology works. As well as how these industries should use them to increase their incomes. (For my part, I believe they really are just dragging their heels on implementing the new technologies because they don't want to spend the X number of dollars to install the new technology and use it. After all - they've got things pretty well locked up as is.)

      So that is what I would do. Write the dean of the college as well as the head of the computing center and lay things out for them. That you feel you are being punished unjustly for a crime you have not committed. Expain to them what the Azureus BitTorrent client does, how it helps to keep the bandwidth usage low (thus saving the university money), and I would imply that it would make everyone who is already using Azureus think less highly of your university (which they probably would). I would also ask those who use Azureus to send an e-mail to you with examples of what they are using the application for and I would include those into the letter to the dean and manager of the computing center.

      Hope things work out for you! :-)
  • Legal Precedent (Score:5, Informative)

    by NorbMan (829255) * on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:31PM (#12049385) Journal
    There is already legal precedent that P2P file sharing technology in itself is indeed legal. The Federal Appeals court that ruled was talking about networks like Morpheus and Grokster, but I would think the precedent set also applies to Bittorrent.

    Here's a quote from a news story back in August [wired.com]:

    "History has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests, whether the new technology be a player piano, a copier, a tape recorder, a video recorder, a personal computer, a karaoke machine, or an MP3 player," Thomas wrote. "Thus, it is prudent for courts to exercise caution before restructuring liability theories for the purpose of addressing specific market abuses, despite their apparent present magnitude."
    • Re:Legal Precedent (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ari_j (90255) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:57PM (#12049741)
      The Supreme Court will soon be deciding in the Grokster case (they heard the case on March 22 or so, if I remember correctly) whether the people who make the technology can be sued for contributory copyright infringement. Even if they reverse the Court of Appeals on the issue and decide that Grokster can be held liable for contributory infringement, that doesn't make the technology itself illegal - it just means that, if the technology is used to infringe copyrights, the copyright holders can sue the company that made the technology instead of or as well as (not sure the deal on this minor point) the users who actually download copyrighted material.

      I don't know if there is precedent regarding holding a network provider, such as your university, liable for contributory copyright infringement when you use their network services to download copyrighted material without license to do so. My thought is that you bring up that it isn't illegal for the university to allow the traffic, and if they are not going to actively seek a declaratory judgment on the matter in court, they should not block the traffic on legal grounds. Moreover, their terms of service most likely proscribe copyright infringement over their network, so there is no apparent need to block the traffic, too.

      DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. Any reliance you take on what I've said is just silly, and you assume the risk of taking any such reliance. I have also not played a lawyer on television or in radio plays. Any resemblance between me and a real lawyer or an actor who plays a lawyer is a mere coincidence, and even though it would be really cool to have you ask for my autograph or offer to pay me for my advice, I am not a lawyer and you are an idiot for thinking I am.
      • Re:Legal Precedent (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dslbrian (318993) on Friday March 25, 2005 @05:39PM (#12050220)

        Even if they reverse the Court of Appeals on the issue and decide that Grokster can be held liable for contributory infringement, that doesn't make the technology itself illegal - it just means that, if the technology is used to infringe copyrights, the copyright holders can sue the company that made the technology instead of or as well as (not sure the deal on this minor point) the users who actually download copyrighted material.

        But the effect of such a decision would be catastrophic on all software used to exchange information. I imagine it would be trivial to show that a given P2P software was used to exchange a copyrighted work. And if so, the companies and/or individuals creating such software would be sued out of existance. Who would step in to write any new software knowing that an unrelated 3rd party could do something to cause them to get sued out of business?

        Frankly, I find the whole notion of specifically targeting P2P applications to be stupid - anyone could use email, ftp, or usenet to distribute copyrighted works - what are you going to do, ban ftp? sue the makers of email software? why not just shut down the internet? its ridiculous and I hope the courts think so also, so they can force the media companies to stop living in 1980...

  • by Chop (211528) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:32PM (#12049392)
    Make sure you do not have any "warez" stored on you computer.
    • by akzeac (862521) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:46PM (#12049603)
      Because if you're innocent, you don't need to be afraid?
      I thought the whole problem was of being thought guilty until proven innocent, now are you going to sell your right for privacy too?
  • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cdrudge (68377) * on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:32PM (#12049400) Homepage
    Did you send a reply back stating, or better yet actually showing, legitimate uses? Game patches, legal multimedia distribution (Red vs. Blue for example), and so forth...
    • Re:Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Nohbdy001 (265019) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:45PM (#12049597) Journal
      I did indeed send a reply back citing several legitimate uses (linux ISOs, legal large multimedia etc...). After which, I agreed to suspend my BitTorrent usage temporarily until the issue was resolved. However, the reply I received seemed less than understanding. Aside from being thanked for discontinuing my use of BT, I was told that what I was doing was potentially dagerous. To quote part of the e-mail: "I think the issue is potentially dangerous for you and the university. Thanks for suspending BitTorrent."

      Which is why I bring the question to the community. Obviously using BT for legit purposes is not anymore dangerous than, say, browsing the web.
      • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bugnuts (94678) on Friday March 25, 2005 @05:06PM (#12049871) Journal
        When someone tells you something they believe is true (BT is illegal) which you know is false, you cannot use logic. Simply don't argue with them or demand proof, since they can't produce any evidence that it's illegal. Besides that, the person that sent you the mail was probably not the person that made the policy, but is responsible for enforcing it.

        The only real recourse you have is to go to the dean which controls the networking group, and get a Decree From Above.

        It might've been he who implemented the policy at the behest of the networking dept, but since you're the victim, it's up to you to set him straight. Go prepared with many examples of legitimate uses of not only BT, but of other p2p applications, and even similar ones such as FTP. Show the obvious falsehoods of calling it illegal, and demonstrate the slippery slope.

        If this is a state school, the decree from above can actually come from a legislator. Write a (paper) letter and you'll probably get a response.
      • Ask for details (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Teun (17872)
        The person(s) behind this must surely be able to supply you with a worked out analises of why P2P in general or BT specifically is not legal, demand a copy.

        Only informed people can properly react to such a troublesome statement, on a universety they should understand this...

      • by billstewart (78916) on Friday March 25, 2005 @05:50PM (#12050324) Journal
        If the file you're accused of "illegally downloading" was an update to Azureus, show them the copyright/license information for the product at http://azureus.sourceforge.net/ . http://sourceforge.net/projects/azureus/ says that it's GPL. So downloading that particular product is quite strictly legal.

        A separate issue that you haven't addressed is what other material you've downloaded using BitTorrent. Some people only use it for legally downloadable material like open software ISOs and trade-friendly music like the etree.org stuff (I certainly do; there's way too much stuff I like there to have time for piracy), while other people trade warez and pirated music. If you're one of the latter, please slap yourself on the wrist, clean the stuff off your PC, and be *very* careful when you talk to the university admins. If you're one of the former, you're in a much stronger legal position. There can be a big difference between what legitimate uses you *could* use BT for and what you're actually doing with it.

        Illegal downloading is potentially legally dangerous to the university, whether it's done with BT or FTP-over-carrier-pigeon. If they're saying that the *issue* is dangerous to *you*, that sounds to me like a threat, and you really need to talk to your ombudsperson.

      • Re:Well... (Score:3, Informative)

        by afidel (530433)
        Explain to them that they are a bunch of clueless morons who need to educate themselves on the difference between a tool and a crime. If you need to point out a widespread legitimate use of Bittorrent technology just point them to the 1.5 million users of World of Warcraft which uses BT as its befault patch distribution method through the Blizzard supplied patch client.
      • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by loraksus (171574)
        Well, lucky you. My School's IT department (Portland State University) is a bit worse.

        1. Blocks ALL outbound traffic on port 25, except to their mail server. No exceptions, sorry. Need to access a mail server outside the network? "Tough luck" (I love the quotes from these motherfuckers when I call in.)

        2. Bittorrent? Ha! They don't explicitly block it, but it is throttled down to 2k or so. They had the fucking gall to claim that it was "simply assigned a lesser priority" on the network when I emailed them
    • Re:Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kethinov (636034) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:49PM (#12049664) Homepage Journal
      Did you send a reply back stating, or better yet actually showing, legitimate uses? Game patches, legal multimedia distribution (Red vs. Blue for example), and so forth...
      A similar thing which happened to the story submitter happened to me once. My ISP got a call from the RIAA that someone was sharing loads of music online. So my ISP just looked for the biggest bandwidth user and shut them off. Well, that someone they shut off was me. But I wasn't the one sharing music. I was seeding Knoppix. A phone call to my ISP quickly resolved the situation.
      • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bani (467531)
        if that happened to me, the phone call to the ISP would have been to cancel my account, notifying them that I was moving to an ISP who would actually bother to check RIAA claims before disconnecting innocent users.
    • Better yet... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Senjutsu (614542)
      Send them a message asking when they'd like to meet with your lawyer to discuss their fraudulent accusations of illegal activity.

      Seeing as they don't have any evidence of such behavior, that ought to remind them that going around accusing people of committing illegal acts sans proof isn't kosher. Suspending an account because of violation of the TOS is one thing, but suspending it with an accusation of criminal behavior is a whole 'nother.
    • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by billn (5184)
      Break it down to basic contexts: possession and ownership of a tool. A gun is a weapon, a specific type of tool. It has one primary purpose: to kill things.

      With a gun, I can:
      Rob a bank.
      Rob a person.
      Wound a person.
      Kill a person.
      Kill myself.

      However, it is perfectly legal to own, maintain, and fire a gun without committing a crime. Mere possession is not a crime.

      I don't see the difference between a piece of software and any thing else I'm permitted to own.
      If it's criminal to own a piece of software that all
  • Easy question: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ironsides (739422) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:32PM (#12049401) Homepage Journal
    Ask them what you were doing that was possibly illegal. If they can not name any possible source of infringment, you might be able to do something. As for all file sharing being illegal, point out to them that a webserver (such as the universities webserver) along with google does essentially the same thing.
  • by IonPanel (714617) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:33PM (#12049405) Homepage
    Although a P2P application may not be illegal, the department providing your computing services has decided they don't want to allow you to use a P2P application on their network.

    Although their reasoning may be questioned - it is their network, and you are probably going to just have to put up with it.
  • by Hanashi (93356) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:34PM (#12049418) Homepage
    As long as you're using the school's network, you have to abide by the school's policies. If they ask you not to do it, you pretty much have to comply if you want to keep your net connection.

    Still, it's probably worth a polite note to the network administrator to request "clarification". State your case concisely (they're usually busy) and politely, and you may get lucky.

  • by flynt (248848) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:35PM (#12049436)
    Sorry, it's their network, and you signed up to use it. You have to play by their rules. In a university setting, the goal should be to promote academic research, and unless administrators see BitTorrent as helping (I don't know whether it does or not), they will probably regulate it. If you have a legitimate academic need for the client, it might be allowed. You'd also probably be surprised about how much p2p traffic there is (music/movies) on campuses, and what kind of cost this incurs on the university.
    • Sorry, it's their network, and you signed up to use it.

      While I completely agree with this, it does wind up being quite the slippery slope. First, as a student, there is more risk and damage in losing your network connection than is going to be gained by fighting the school. You're there for, how long? Do your file trading from a home connection.

      But, that's where the "slippery slope" comes in. Today, it is a university telling you that you have to play by their rules. What happens when the telco/cab
  • by Shoten (260439) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:35PM (#12049439)
    Okay, first the good news. Proving that it's not illegal is relatively simple. If something isn't explicitly rendered illegal by an act of law, it's legal. Ask them to point out the law that states (and here's the key point) that use of this particular protocol is illegal for distribution of freeware that is also available for unfettered download via the web. They obviously won't be able to...problem solved?

    Not exactly. This isn't just a matter of legal versus not legal, it's a question of whether it complies with their own Acceptable Use Policies. And depending on how those policies are written, Bittorrent may be a no-no anyways, "Because we say so." And I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that when they say "illegal," they don't mean 'criminal,' they mean 'against our own policies.' Good luck to you, man (or woman, whichever).
  • legitimate uses (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Darkon (206829) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:35PM (#12049440)

    Keep in mind that your definition of "legitimate use" may be quite different from theirs. University IT departments tend not to consider anything to be "legitimate" unless it has a valid academic application. Do you know of any academic uses for BitTorrent? Not trying to rain on your parade, but "I need it to download X" probably won't cut much ice.
    • Re:legitimate uses (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      How about this?

      I am an IT student. I need to use BitTorrent to download the latest Linux distribution so as to keep my linux distro up-to-date as required by my "computer programming in linux" class at this very university. (Alternatively, "to research the differences among kernel distributions" so as to document changes, observe patches, and understand why they were necessary and how they were implemented).
    • Mandrake Linux is distributed via torrents. That is a perfectly legal way to distribute the enormous bandwidth costs of millions of downloads of several CDROMs full of Free data.
  • by doublem (118724) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:35PM (#12049450) Homepage Journal
    Dear IT Department,

    The "P2P" traffic you refer to consisted of me downloading updates to legal software. I will also use P2P technology to download Linux ISO's and other legal products.

    I am not using P2P to download Movies, music or any other content unless the copyright owners have, as is the case with GPL software, explictly authorized unrestricted digital transfer.

    You might as well ban FTP and HTTP traffic, as the materials I download can be legally acquired through those protocols as well.

    You have not banned any illegal or debated downloads, only the download of software and content that all parties involved agree is legal to transfer.

    Sincerely,

    The student seeking a transfer to a more competently run University.
    • Re:Letter to IT (Score:4, Interesting)

      by LokieLizzy (858962) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:40PM (#12049529)
      Copping an attitude against the IT department is the quickest way to get yourself banned from the University's IP domain. If you speak to them reasonably, they're more likely to listen. But if you go about spouting arrogant gibberish like "you might as well ban HTTP traffic" or "the student seeking a transfer to a more competently run University", then you're just asking for it. Don't bite the hand that gives you free internet access. Believe me -- I speak from experience.
    • by flydude18 (839328) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:51PM (#12049680)

      A better letter to IT:

      Dear IT Department,

      I will discontinue using unauthorized P2P protocols on your network. I appologize if my usage of such protocols has caused any problem for your department of for the University.

      From now on, I will only use allowed protocols, such as FTP and HTTP, to illegally download copyrighted material across your network.

  • by InfiniteWisdom (530090) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:38PM (#12049491) Homepage
    Unfortunately the university network is a private network, and they can set nearly any policy they like. If that policy is that no applications that have explicitly been ruled legal are allowed, they can do that.

    In my opinion the best you can do is to to publicise the fact in your school and/or community papers. It might help if you got it in writing that the school has a policy of banning all new applications till courts rule that they are legal. It ought to warn prospective students that far from encouraging creativity, the school has a policy of stifling it, and they ought to stay away.

  • by oni (41625) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:39PM (#12049508) Homepage
    and I can tell you that the larger issue is the amount of bandwidth used by students. Universities pay by the bit and budgets are tight. The network has two purposes: first, it is there to help with your education. second, it is a recruiting tool - nobody would want to attend a school without network access.

    But beyond that, it's an expensive utility and the school really can't afford to open it up 100%. So, they are always looking for some way to justify restricting its use. It's sad that they have basically called you a theif, but don't take it personally. They're just trying to save money. It's wrong and it sucks for you, but that's the bottom line.

    Don't worry. college is only four years, and then you can get a good job and a real internet connection. For now, just concentrate on beer and girls

    and grades of course.
  • by Paul Bristow (118584) <paul.paulbristow@net> on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:39PM (#12049515) Homepage
    Mandrake Linux uses BitTorrent as it's main method for downloading for Mandrake Club members. To quote them directly from http://www.mandrakelinux.com/en/club/ "Early and privileged access is provided, before public release, to ISO images of the latest Mandrakelinux, using the fast BitTorrent technology." However I sould strongly suggest being able to substantiate the legal use before you start a discussion with your University.
  • by astrashe (7452) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:41PM (#12049543) Journal
    It's getting to the point where it's hard to run open source software without using bittorrent.

    I'm not saying it's impossible (that would clearly be overstating things) but more and more things are being distributed via torrents.

    I think the reaction should be that you know they have a problem (traffic and piracy on their network), but that you have a problem (there is stuff that's legal that you need torrents to get), and see if you can come to a reasonable solution.

    I would try to emphasize the direction of the trend, too. A couple of years ago, bittorrent didn't factor into downloading linux iso's very much at all. Now I think it's clearly the best way to get most things, although more traditional downloads are still available. But eventually, I wouldn't be surprised if people without torrent access have real trouble getting large legal files.

    If your school doesn't want to hamstring its students' ability to participate in open source, they'll have to open up to torrents.
    • I'm not certain this exact tactic will be successful, but astrashe definitely has the right solution - you need to go over their helmets, and get Faculty behind you if you're going to influence University IT policy.

      An Azureus download isn't too special, but if you can find something more "liberal" that is also being censored (try to find an indie movie exclusively on BitTorrent about lesbian aboriginal alcoholics with cancer) you'll have something to go to the Dean and school newspaper about.

      As others hav
    • IT departments at Universities loathe CS professors. At least everyone i've ever heard of/worked at did.

      Why? Because they are COMPUTER SCIENCE professors and usually know jack and shit about networking and what it takes to keep 30,000+ computers/people running smoothly. Worse than that, alot of CS professors know a lot about a specific field (say mutlimedia) but can't keep their computers clean of spyware for the life of them.

      Last thing I would do is involve CS professors, it'll just mean you'll get ignor
  • by aedil (68993) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:44PM (#12049581)
    The quote from the letter shows that the university is clearly blowing smoke and either did not talk to their legal department, or if they did, they ought to fire their lawyers. Although you sometimes have to wonder about the sanity of the US legal system, there is still a basic principle that something is legal unless it is determined to be illegal. Therefore, courts do not have to rule P2P activity as legal before you can engage in that activity. Even pending litigations do not constitute that P2P activity is currently illegal (unless you break the law using the P2P stuff).

    Also, it is very unlikely that any court would rule specifically on student P2P activity. Students are strange animals, but in general rulings like this would apply to everyone, not just to students.

    They are obviously playing on threatening people, and hiding behind vague statements in an effort to simply avoid the entire risk of people potentially using P2P technology to download (or upload) illegal materials. I'd personally recommand replying back to the university, explaining your legal use of P2P, and explaining that their letter seems to be based on some flawed assumptions, both legally and factually.

    But do not expect to win unless you really want to fight this desperately. It's their network and though you pay tuition and all that, it is still their network, and so they get to decide what goes, whether it makes sense or not.
  • by drewzhrodague (606182) <drew.zhrodague@net> on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:46PM (#12049602) Homepage Journal
    I got a note in my box from the (local western Pennsylvania) LUG, which describes a talk from a state trooper who said that wardriving was illegal. After years of debunking, talking nicely to less-informed journalists, and even having an FBI agents on video say otherwise [seattlewireless.net], there is still a lack of understanding.

    I heard at my last contract that they didn't use SSH because it was "inherently insecure." They used telnet instead.

    Best thing to do, is be patient, try to educate the uninformed, and convince others to do the same.

    Just don't get too angry, or they won't want to listen to you in the first place.
  • by l4m3z0r (799504) <kevin@ub[ ]tyle.net ['ers' in gap]> on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:46PM (#12049612)
    How can a student respond to such an accusation in order to defend the validity of BitTorrent and continue to benefit from its legitimate uses?

    Get MS to use bittorrent to assist in distrobution of patches through the windows update system. Garunteed within 30 days there would be a federal law that makes blocking bit torrent a crime.

  • by EnronHaliburton2004 (815366) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:46PM (#12049616) Homepage Journal
    The letter stated, 'Until the courts decide that student P2P activity is permitted we will continue to block this activity on our network,' implying that BitTorrent is inherently illegal.

    No, they are not implying that BitTorrent is inherently illegal. They are stating that they think BitTorrent *may* be used for illegal activities and they don't want to regulate BitTorrent traffic on their network, and are erroring on the side of caution.

    Like it or not, it is the University's network, and they administer it as they see fit. Don't like it? Tough. Use another network.

    If the MPAA finds a bunch of students pirating movies on the University network, the University will be held responsible at some level. It could become a massive headache for the Network admins, which is why they are taking this move.
    • by Grishnakh (216268) on Friday March 25, 2005 @06:52PM (#12050735)
      Sorry, your logic is invalid. You say "they don't want to regulate BitTorrent traffic", but by shutting down his access for using BT, they are in fact regulating it. If they were regulating it, they wouldn't be looking for it.

      Yes, the Uni owns the network, but as a member in a contractual agreement, they have to have terms of service that they live up to: a policy. If they don't want people using P2P networks, they're free to state, in their policy, that P2P usage is not permitted. However, according to TFA, this is not the case in this instance. Instead, they're accusing him of lawbreaking, by their statement involving decisions by "the courts". Maybe you don't see it, but most reasonable people can see this is clearly an implication of illegal activity. Remember, according to the Constitution, acts which are not specifically declared illegal, are by default legal. You can't just go around accusing people of being lawbreakers because whatever acts they commit haven't been specifically decided by "the courts" or the legislature as being legal.
  • Legal Avenues (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spiritraveller (641174) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:49PM (#12049651)
    Hmmm... let's see, they accuse you of illegal activity... so that would be slander.

    Second, they penalize you for taking part in a perfectly legal exchange of data. It could be a First Amendment issue. But that's only if your university is state-run.

    Give your local chapter of the ACLU a call and see what they think. You never know, they may be interested in representing you.
  • Student Governments (Score:5, Informative)

    by EconomyGuy (179008) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:53PM (#12049699) Homepage
    While not the most popular approach among Slashdoters, I highly recommend talking with your student government. Having served in one for way to long, I can tell you that most of them are just waiting for the perfect issue to come by to fight the Administration on. Network censorship is an easy issue to understand and they are obviously overreaching in their interpretations of "the Law."

    The other important question is whether this is a state or private school. One poster said you had no recourse because it was "their network"... but such is not the case is if this is a state school. There may be certain laws that protect fair access. Again your student government can be a valuable source of information in this area.

    -Sean
  • It sucks but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:54PM (#12049716) Homepage Journal
    Hey its their network, they make the rules..

    If tomrrow they decide that slashot isnt allowed, then you lose access..

    You signed the agreement. Thats the breaks..
  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@l y n x . b c .ca> on Friday March 25, 2005 @04:58PM (#12049767) Journal
    What were you downloading? I assume it was content that should have been legal.

    If what you were downloading was something you had authorization to copy anyways, then you weren't infringing on copyright. Period.

  • by netruner (588721) on Friday March 25, 2005 @05:04PM (#12049834)
    When I was doing my undergrad, I was on a judical board. Any student who felt they were unduly punished could appeal their punishment to a judicial board for decision. This kept administrators from running amok handing out nonsense punishments out of ignorance/laziness/malice.

    Our school even had a group of prelaw/political science majors that were certified by the school as "advocates" and could present your case for you. Check with your student government association and find out if such an option would be available to you. This may not solve the problem outright, but it would give you an opportunity to state the facts.

    You can't argue with ignorance, but you can go on the record with the facts.
  • by gorehog (534288) on Friday March 25, 2005 @07:02PM (#12050807)
    Our courts will never declare P2P use legal. It's not what they do. The legal system in this country is designed around the idea that things are legal and people are innocent until laws make it illegal or you are found guilty. You are allowed to have and use bitorrent under US law. It's a first amendment right. You are not allowed to share copyrighted works however. By way of analogy it's like having a printing press. It's ok to print your own work, or works you are contracted to print by the creator, or works in the public domain: as long as you dont start printing copies of things like The Lord of The Rings (which did, in fact, happen and resulted in legal fights and too many editions wandering around). You can share free software and your own works with the tool. So you have some recourse. And you might want to investigate whatever student and academic tribunals that you have at your disposal. This is a right worth protecting. I should mention that IANAL, but I do follow this closely as I did have articles censored in my High School paper, as well as other students at that school. So this is an issue near and dear to my heart. There are things to condsider... Is this a private or state run school? That may make a difference if this ever has to go to court. Usually the courts have taken the position that the school is publisher in student censorship cases and so has a right to edit the content of what they publish. So they might have the final right to say no to all P2P sharing on their network as it is "their" bandwidth. However, you have not committed a crime, right? And you might want to be careful on that count, it would be embarrassing to go before a student/faculty review board and claim you only use it for legit purposes...and then have them show that you spent 2 weeks downlaoding the entire series of Porky's movies. So, be careful. Or build your arguments carefully. You might want to contact the EFF or the ACLU, they both deal with this kind of thing. Finally, I expect your best course of action is to try to protect your rights at the academic level. Get an academic review board together and present your case that the tool and the file quoted are not illegal, and show the license that allows you to share the file. Allow the IT deparment to make their case that they have limited bandwidth and dont have time to determine which files are legal and which are not. Demonstrate that you are a responsible citizen, not a wily and witless media bandit and try to paint the IT dept's policy as draconian and possibly a violation of civil rights. Let the students and faculty decide and they will set policy for the school. Then you will know what kind of school you really go to. Or...host your files off-campus. ---Gorehog
  • by El Kevbo (81125) on Friday March 25, 2005 @07:03PM (#12050812)

    I assume you live on campus. I recommend you take your case to Housing, the Dean of Students, or someone else in Student Affairs. We're generally much more sympathetic and student friendly (it's our job). We're professional student advocates who should be able to help you navigate the processes and translate the language of the higher education bureaucracy.

    In particular, if you can make your case to Housing you may be in a stronger position as we are typically a self-sufficient or lightly subsidized auxiliary service and dependent on your rent for our budget. Unhappy residents makes our lives more difficult and if it impacts the bottom line strongly enough it may make our jobs nonexistent. But more than that: most of us are in this profession to understand your concerns and help you convey them to the right people. It's part of the educational process. We honestly believe (and have the research to support) a huge amount of important educational and learning experiences occur outside of the classroom and labratory. This is one of those experiences.

    IMHO, there should be a healthy tension between the Housing dept and the IT dept regarding the policies and use of the residential computer network. There is an inherent tension between needing to protect the network and keeping it open for legitimate academic and recreational uses. Unfortunately, it's usually the residents who get caught in the middle between these opposing viewpoints.

    I've been involved in similar "fights" and discussions. There's no easy answer particularly in areas where bandwidth is expensive and public support for higher education is declining (i.e. nearly everywhere). And ultimately my responsibility is to all of the residents not just one or two of them. If that means I have to deny access to an application, port, etc. to a few residents to ensure the rest of them can use the network then I'll do that or recommend our network engineers do that. It's a poor solution and I wish we didn't have to do it but sometimes we have to make compromises. We can't afford (more realistically: YOU can't afford) to buy the bandwidth necessary to satisfy all of the academic and entertainment needs of all of the residents.

    Best of luck! I hope your campus administration makes the right decision (whatever that is) and you learn something (hopefully positive) from this process. If it helps, I am dismayed by the situation as you have described it and would do my best not to allow a similar situation on my campus.

  • by davmoo (63521) on Friday March 25, 2005 @07:50PM (#12051077)
    It amazes me how many people start their reply with words to the effect of "they have accused you of doing something illegal, this is slander, sue them!" when in fact the parts of the letter that have been posted do no such thing.

    Its also funny how many people say "they can't do that!" when the university owns the network in question, which means yes they can. There is no gray area, and there is ample court ruling to back that up.

    Considering the legal consequences the school can face from the **AA crushing machine, I can't fault them for taking this stance. I think its unfortunate, and to an extent unfair, but they really don't have a lot of choices.

    But then this is Slashdot. We never let a little thing like facts get in the way. Just like this post will probably get modded to "troll" because we also don't like it when simple truths are pointed out.
  • by Neo-Rio-101 (700494) on Friday March 25, 2005 @08:35PM (#12051308)
    P2P is banned outright at my government owned institute. First of all, the IT department has an application server set up to detect P2P applications based on the traffic, regardless of what port they are using. Here is why it's banned:- (1) It's a security risk. Most of the time people using P2P applications find themselves targets of port scans and other hack attempts. We really don't need this. (2) The piracy issue. Sure, you can argue for downloading Linux ISOs over BitTorrent, but let's be real here. When you already have some AMAZING bandwidth, downloading ISOs (And Debian as jigdo files) is quick by FTP or HTTP alone. There's nothing research related that can only be found on BitTorrent. Plus, allowing people to host illegal content becomes a liability for the IT department, and we have enough work to deal with. (3) The network issue. It hammers the network unneccessarily, and if allowed, it would create a chicken and egg situation for the IT department. As soon as we do an upgrade of the network, more people would use P2P to use up the bandwidth - requiring another upgrade, which more people would then max out. It's too expensive to keep doing this, we already have enough switches that need replacing.
  • by coyote4til7 (189857) on Friday March 25, 2005 @08:58PM (#12051431) Homepage
    I'd find a key package that the IT Department relies on and convince/bribe/blackmail the maintainers to switch to torrent-only distibution. Ooops... no security patches for the registration system? Bet the IT Dept. would change the rules then.

    If I were an Evil Genius ... hehehe ...
  • by crazyphilman (609923) on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:05PM (#12052147) Journal
    First of all, I'd say to myself "It's their network and they can decide what I run on it". Then I'd say "However, they didn't appropriately warn me that they didn't want me running BitTorrent. This is all a misunderstanding, let's clear it up." And then I would go to the networking office and say this:

    "First of all, this is a misunderstanding. I wasn't downloading or distributing copyrighted material, I was just downloading an update to the software, and I had an appropriate license for it. So I haven't broken the law and I haven't done anything that'll get YOU in trouble, either. I only use BitTorrent to download Linux ISO's (or whatever), and I didn't think anyone would care about that -- it's all properly licensed to me, no laws broken...

    I understand why you might not want me to run BitTorrent, and since you obviously don't want me running it on your network, I won't, ok? But do me a favor and restore my network access, because this is all just a misunderstanding and no law has been broken. I'm sorry if I've caused you any trouble."

    I would be very polite and businesslike, I would show the network admin respect, and I would try VERY hard to not come across as hostile in any way.

    Network priviledges are important to a college kid. And they don't have to turn the tap back on, remember that. BE NICE and clear the mess up, and maybe it'll all get settled in a friendly way.

    Of course, if you WERE trading movies or music, you're probably SOL. But you probably weren't (you deserve the benefit of the doubt). Treat it as a misunderstanding that has to be cleared up, and you'll be ok.

  • by Rick and Roll (672077) on Friday March 25, 2005 @11:20PM (#12052212)
    I'm surprised nobody else suggested this, because the situation does warrant it.

    Find out who's responsible, and punch them in the face. It's as simple as that.

  • Completely Legal (Score:3, Informative)

    by nighthawk127127 (848761) on Saturday March 26, 2005 @12:20AM (#12052427) Journal
    The Halo fansite Halo.Bungie.Org has recently been using BitTorrent more and more often to distribute Halo videos to the community. Since the number of people downloading these vids has increased dramatically, BitTorrent has become necessary. There are plenty of legal applications for BitTorrent, and in this case, one that is necessary. The beauty of BitTorrent is (as i'm sure everyone here already knows) that the more people are downloading a file, the faster the download speeds are for everyone.
  • Your reply (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jonbryce (703250) on Saturday March 26, 2005 @12:28AM (#12052454) Homepage
    1. Until the courts rule that p2p is illegal, it probably isn't.

    2. The internet is a p2p network

    3. MPAA v Sony (Betamax)

    4. Point to the large number of legitimate torrent sites, and explain how bittorrent's design makes it pretty unsuitable for copyright infringement.

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