Update on University Anti-Piracy Efforts

It is natural for young people to want to download music and video content. However, doing this on campus using peer-to-peer file sharing often violates copyright law and puts both themselves and the University at risk. Because there are legitimate users of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, however, University Technology did not want to block P2P traffic on WIU’s networks. As a result, WIU received a large number of “DMCA takedown notices” for many years from the entertainment industry.

In order to comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), Western Illinois University (like all public universities in the United States) was required to implement a process to deter and sanction unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials on our networks. In March 2015, a WIU policy (the aptly-named DMCA and HEOA Response Policy) was approved and technology-based deterrents were subsequently deployed in April that year to help enforce it.

This coming April will mark the two year anniversary since its implementation. Although the illegal downloading and sharing of copyrighted materials continues to be an issue both on campus and around the globe, we wanted to share some data on how this technology has impacted illegal downloading of copyright materials at Western.

In December 2014, an appliance was activated on Western’s computer network that began monitoring illegal file sharing. This device issued warnings to users when such activity was detected but it took no other action. The warnings, however, served to educate users about copyright infringement, options to legally download material, and they also helped to get the word out that the new policy would soon be enforced.

After WIU’s DMCA and HEOA Response Policy was approved a few months later (April 2015), University Technology used the appliance to implement a four-step graduated response system. In general:

  • Level 1 Sanction: Upon a first offense, the user’s browser is redirected to a warning page indicating that illegal activity has been detected. The user’s Internet access is then disabled for two hours.
  • Level 2 Sanction: If a second offense occurs, the user’s web browser is again redirected to the warning page, and his/her Internet access is disabled for 48 hours.
  • Level 3 Sanction: If a third offense occurs, the user’s web browser is redirected to a warning page, and the user’s Internet access is disabled until the user personally meets with a designated University Technology staff member to discuss the ongoing copyright violations.
  • Level 4 Sanction: If a fourth offense occurs, the user’s web browser is redirected to a warning page, which states that Internet access has been blocked. Penalties for violation of academic policy may apply and, depending on his/her role at the University, the user is required to appear before Student Judicial Programs or the Office of the Provost.

It is important to note that a sanctioned user still has access to computers in the labs to complete homework assignments and to do research. Of course, these computers are also being monitored.

Prior to implementing this network device, the University received individual copyright infringement notifications via email (i.e., DMCA takedown notices) from major record labels, movie studios and other copyright holders. These were entered as tickets in University Technology’s tracking system and assigned to a Support Center or Network Team staff member to investigate and handle. This was a time-intensive process that did little to deter or educate repeat offenders. In the Fall 2014 semester alone, we received 924 of these copyright infringement notifications.

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As evidenced in the chart above, when the technology-based deterrent was implemented towards the end of the Spring 2015 semester, infringement notifications received by our Support Center plummeted to 336 that semester (a 64% decrease from the previous Fall), and then down to 90 in Fall 2016 (another 73% decrease from the previous Fall). In Fall 2016, there were only four devices connected to Western’s network that made it to the Level 3 sanctions that required each user to meet with University Technology staff before their Internet access would be reinstated. There have not been any Level 4 sanctions to date.

Although our technology-based copyright infringement deterrent has only been in place for a short time, the data indicates that it is working. There are now far fewer copyright holders notifying the University about infringement. The fact that there have been very few Level 3 sanctions indicate that otherwise-would-be repeat offenders are paying attention to the warnings and choosing not continue to participate in infringement on Western’s network.