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Thursday, November 15, 2007

The University of Michigan Wants You To "Be Aware You're Uploading"

by: Kurt Hunt, Blog Editor, MTTLR

In October of 2007, the University of Michigan announced a new “Be Aware You’re Uploading” (BAYU) program “to notify users of University networks that they might be uploading” to peer-to-peer networks.1  The service, which will automatically e-mail students in residence halls when the University network detects P2P uploading, was said to serve three goals: (1) “to help users avoid unwittingly uploading,” (2) to help users upload lawfully, and (3) to help students “be mindful of the risks” of using P2P.2

Although University of Michigan assistant general counsel Jack Bernard reaffirmed that the school’s “goal is to educate our students so they can understand their choices, risks, and responsibilities,”3 it’s worth taking a closer look at the likely (and plausible) results of BAYU to determine if “education” is indeed the goal being served.

BAYU’s first two stated goals—to help users avoid unwittingly uploading, and to help users who wish to upload do so lawfully4—seem sufficiently focused on the well-being of the students to fit within the University’s description of the service’s ultimate purpose. The third, however, is more questionable.

The stated goal of helping students “be mindful of the risks” of using P2P technology is described by Mr. Bernard as simply educating students.5  While the educational result is undeniable, I would argue that affirmatively sending an e-mail to students warning them to "be mindful of the risks" of the P2P suggests that education is not the primary goal of the system. Deterrence is.

BAYU seems designed to intimidate. It puts students on notice that there is no anonymity in the residence halls, that their activities are noticed, and that their activities can be traced to them personally. It is far more personal and invasive than is necessary for mere "education."

This may seem like a quibbling difference in the framing of the goal, but its implications for BAYU should not be ignored. If BAYU is primarily serving educational goals, that implies that the University of Michigan is indifferent--or at least is not motivated by its opposition--to uploading of unauthorized content to P2P systems.

The fact is, however, that the University is not indifferent. Unauthorized file sharing from residence halls causes administrative hassles, potential legal liability, and political pressure from the RIAA and related groups.6  The University, through Mr. Bernard as well as mass e-mails to students, has repeatedly stressed that it "does not condone unlawful peer-to-peer file sharing" (hardly a surprise).7  Both for policy reasons and practical reasons, the University has every possible motivation to reduce unauthorized filesharing from its residence network. At the same time, it recognizes that publicizing BAYU as a "deterrent" to unauthorized file sharing would likely stir dissent within the student community. Hence: "education."

This shift from education to deterrence has important implications for the program’s success. First, it makes success hinge on a reduction of unauthorized file sharing—increased student knowledge of the risk is insufficient. Second, if BAYU proves successful in this respect, the obvious benefits to the University might inspire other schools to adopt similar methods of deterrence (with some perhaps not being wrapped in such rosy clothing).

What then?

If BAYU proves to be successful at deterring unauthorized filesharing and is imitated at many major universities, as it likely would be, the P2P market might see a dramatic reduction in the number of unauthorized uploaders. Studies have confirmed what common-sense tells us: college students make up a disproportionately high percentage of the unauthorized P2P market.8  Even accounting for the fact that not all college students connect to the internet via a University network,9  that could be a substantial number of potential uploaders that would be actively deterred. In other words, the spread of BAYU could help bring content owners one step closer to the goal of containing unauthorized file sharing.

Whether it's proper for universities to take this action is a broad question of policy that I don't pretend to address here. It's enough for now to point out that BAYU may not be as snuggly as the University portrays it, and that its success may have a wide effect on the future development of the P2P market.

1  U-M BAYU: Be Aware You’re Uploading, http://bayu.umich.edu/basics.php.
2  Id.
3  Jack Bernard, ’U’ Puts Students First, The Michigan Daily, Oct. 31, 2007, available at http://media.www.michigandaily.com/media/storage/paper851/news/2007/10/31/Viewpoints/u.Puts.Students.First-3067804.shtml.
4  U-M BAYU: Be Aware You’re Uploading, http://bayu.umich.edu/basics.php.
5  Jack Bernard, ’U’ Puts Students First, The Michigan Daily, Oct. 31, 2007, available at http://media.www.michigandaily.com/media/storage/paper851/news/2007/10/31/Viewpoints/u.Puts.Students.First-3067804.shtml.
6  See, e.g., Press Release, Recording Industry Association of America, Pre-Lawsuit Letters Sent in New Wave Targeting Music Theft on 19 Campuses (Oct. 18, 2007), http://www.riaa.org/newsitem.php?news_year_filter=&resultpage=&id=E549F223-3648-E92C-0CA2-7BFAFC2DB352 (RIAA sent 20 “pre-litigation settlement letters” to University of Michigan students in October, 2007); Press Release, Recording Industry Association of America, RIAA Pre-Lawsuit Letters Go to 22 Campuses in New Wave of Deterrence Program (April 11, 2007), http://www.riaa.com/newsitem.php?news_year_filter=&resultpage=4&id=7408966D-245D-A17D-4869-C0DB1E7ADA97 (RIAA sent 23 “pre-litigation settlement letters” to University of Michigan students in April, 2007).
7  See, e.g., Jack Bernard, ’U’ Puts Students First, The Michigan Daily, Oct. 31, 2007, available at http://media.www.michigandaily.com/media/storage/paper851/news/2007/10/31/Viewpoints/u.Puts.Students.First-3067804.shtml; Letter from Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of Michigan, to students of the University of Michigan (March 8, 2007), available at http://michiganfreeculture.files.wordpress.com/2007/03/riaa11.jpg?w=310&h=257.
8  Jack M. Germain, Big Pirate on Campus, E-Commerce Times, June 5, 2007, http://www.ecommercetimes.com/story/57678.html (citing a study by marketing firm NPD).
9  American Council on Education, Paying for College, http://www.acenet.edu/Content/NavigationMenu/ProgramsServices/CIP/PayingforCollege/College_Prices.htm (“about 25 percent of undergraduates live on campus”).

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Blogger Dominique said...

BAYU is not an educational program intended to warn students living in residence halls about the dangers of P2P file sharing, but a happy spin on a scare tactic in which the University acts as a big brother to all students on the UM network. I’m an undergrad living in East Quad and am a member of the Women in Science and Engineering Residential Program (WISE). The WISE directors actually had a P2P intervention talk in the beginning of the semester, and they brought in girls who had their internet access blocked last year to talk about P2P sharing and how we shouldn't do it, since our actions online can be traced back to us individually. We all became aware of a feeling of lost privacy, and feared being blocked ourselves, since having internet access is essential to homework and communication on campus. We can’t afford to be blocked.

The talk wasn’t meant to scare us, but the WISE directors don’t want any of the girls in the program to be denied access. The talk was necessary because it’s almost impossible to find any information on the consequences the University can impart on the students who take part in P2P networks. Even the University’s Information Technology Central Services’ web page for the guidelines for responsible use (http://www.itd.umich.edu/itcsdocs/r1103/) doesn’t describe actions the University can take against students who break the policies listed. One of the few places where a student can find P2P punishments is in an obscure link buried on the University Housing web page (http://www.housing.umich.edu/info/clam/index.php?article=A31.html&list=1) which says, “Each user of the ResComp network is a member of a unique community. With that membership come responsibilities and expectations about online behavior. Failure to adhere to these expectations may result in the immediate loss of network access.”

So it seems that the University doesn’t want to look like the bad guy, and tries to get by on just warning students about P2P by saying that it’s prohibited. This strategy doesn’t seem to have worked, though, since it leaves out the aspect of the University looking over our shoulders as we connect to the network. This is where BAYU comes in. Those “friendly e-mails” warn us about our P2P usage, but also reminds us that someone is monitoring us. That alone makes most of us want to stop file sharing, just to get off of the BAYU radar, even without the threat of internet blockage. Interestingly enough, the BAYU website (http://www.bayu.umich.edu/policies.php) links to pages regarding policies on P2P systems, but none of those pages discuss the right of the University to terminate the internet access of individuals.

This near covering up of the punishments involved with P2P leaves BAYU looking like a nice little system that gives a heads-up to unwitting students, when in reality it just scares us and makes us think about just how much the University knows about what we’re doing online. Certainly this can’t be classified as “education”. For some students, though, BAYU acts as a measure of how long they can use P2P systems. Some of my hall mates wait until they get a few BAYU e-mails before shutting down their P2P systems, wait until the e-mails go away, and then start file-sharing again, only to complete endless cycles of this behavior. In their cases, BAYU seems to have a different sort of “educational value”. Instead of learning about the dangers of P2P, they learn how to use the BAYU e-mails to skirt around being punished.

So, when we look at its own goals, how well is BAYU really working?

--Dominique Segura-Cox

November 28, 2007 at 1:57 AM  
Anonymous Derek S. said...

Interesting comment Doninique. I was similarly wondering if BAYU would simply lead to innovative work-arounds. Like it or not, P2P is here to stay, it is simply too useful for college students who are both poor, and "consume" media at high rates. It will take firmer messages and leadership than what is being done right now to simply deter it effectively. With the economies involved though, eventually something is going to have to give.

Either P2P is going to gain acceptance & some form of regulation, or punishments are going to become more innovative and draconian for illegal use. Right now P2P is in a weird and uncertain legal quagmire.

Besides the current litigation, I wonder how much the legislature is looking at this problem too. They are probably being lobbied hard by the RIAA & MPAA to enact stronger measures, but don't want to risk alienating constituencies. One might assume new legislation allowing more restrictions or higher penalties for P2P might be an unwise bill to have your name on, considering its current popularity with the public.

All in all, a real interesting subject these days!

December 4, 2007 at 11:28 AM  

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