Ohio University announced this week that they are completely banning all file sharing on campus. Violators will get their Internet access cut off and possibly face disciplinary action. Ohio University previously made headlines for being the school with the highest number of music piracy complaints in the country.
The problem of file sharing on campus is hardly new. Ever since Napster, administrators have tried to stop the swapping with various technical roadblocks. P2P enthusiasts usually react with protest, referring to that Ubuntu ISO they really, really need to get via BitTorrent. Wink Wink, nudge nudge.
But nowadays P2P isn’t just about The Pirate Bay anymore. There are major motion pictures for sale on BitTorrent.com, there are Showtime downloads on the Azureus-powered Vuze.com, and then there is Joost. Ohio University’s Anti-P2P policy could spell trouble for all of them – and in turn put the school in an awkward position.
Ohio University’s list of programs that will get you in trouble reads like a Who’s Who of the file sharing world:
“Ares, Azureus, BitComet, BitLord, BitTornado, BitTorrent, FlashGet, Gnutella, KaZaA, LimeWire, Morpheus, Shareaza, uTorrent.”
Wide-ranging blocks like these are usually done on a protocol level. Specialized applications analyze the nature of each packet flowing through the local network – and ring the alarm bell as soon as something looks like Bittorrent or Gnutella. This means that OU students shouldn’t use the Democracy Player / Miro, Pando or Allpeers either, since all of them are based on the Bittorrent protocol.
Ohio University didn’t respond in time to clarify whether they will block Joost as well, but the wording of their file sharing advisory makes it clear that you probably don’t even want to try:
“Although P2P file-sharing can sometimes be used for legitimate reasons, any use of P2P software on the campus network may result in Internet access being disabled under this new policy. “
Students who do want to use P2P for legal purposes have to call their IT department and “provide detailed information about the software you wish to use and your purposes for using it.” My guess is something like “downloading a licensed Girls Gone Wild episode off of BitTorrent.com” won’t cut it.
Of course one could argue that Universities shouldn’t subsidize the downloading of movies with flashing teenagers to begin with. It’s their network, and it’s supposed to be used for education, not entertainment, right?
If it only was that easy. The truth of the matter is that universities don’t seem to mind entertainment within their networks if it’s from the right source. Ohio University and roughly 60 other schools have made deals with a company called Cdigix to provide digital music downloads and subscriptions for their students. More than a hundred schools signed with Ruckus.com, a similiar service that also offers movies and TV show downloads. Combine this with a growing trend to enact Anti-P2P measures that block legal P2P platforms offering the very same shows and movies, and you’ve got yourself a nice little conflict of interest.
Granted, most folks in higher education could probably care less about where their students buy the next American Pie flick. Universities are driven to radical measures like these because of the flood of litigation against their file-sharing students. But it looks like once again it could be the legal marketplace that suffers the most.