UPDATED: Valdosta State U promises prison sentences for students who use P2P

Update: John Newton, Director of IT for Valdosta State U, has issued this statement: "The Spectator article was, unfortunately, factually in error. While our process is not yet defined, we currently do not hand over students to the Police nor have we purchased software to hunt them down and I cannot foresee that we would ever do so. I hope to have a correction made as soon as possible."

Georgia's Valdosta State University has a new policy on P2P use: if their network spyware detects a student using P2P software, that student will be turned over to the police. The student newspaper promises felony punishments of up to five years imprisonment and fines up to $250,000 "per offense." When I was teaching at USC, my students were required to use P2P software as part of their coursework; I'm hardly the only prof who has advised students to use BiTtorrent to download legit, noninfringing material, or even to examine the catalogs of infringing works available as part of their coursework. And, of course, my own work is freely available on many P2P networks, under terms set out in the Creative Commons licenses I use. It's crazy enough that universities decide to spend tuition dollars in order to act as a private police force for some of the richest for-profit companies in the world; but enmeshing students in the criminal justice system and threatening them with prison sentences for using legitimate software is crazier still. Isn't there a law school at this uni who can explain how this stuff works to the (evidently thoroughly captured) administration?

The new system is undoubtedly going to cause collateral damage, since an effective P2P detection tool will be unable to make a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate use of P2P software. This means that booting up your BitTorrent client to download free films such as Snowblind will result in a referral to the police station.

To some these measures may appear as a witch-hunt against students using P2P software, but Joe Newton, VSU Director of Information Technology, sees it as a form of education.

"As an institution of higher learning, we will take an educational approach to the problem and use approved campus procedures to reach appropriate resolutions," he said.

University Begins Reporting All P2P Users to the Police (via /.)


  1. Could be worse.

    Instead of turning you over to the terribly confused local Police Department, they could make you eat your beard.

    1. Countdown to Valdosta PD telling the university that it doesn’t have the time, resources or inclination to investigate half of the student body begins… now.

      1. We actually have five police departments here in Valdosta – City Police, State Troopers, VSU police, Highway Patrol, and Remerton Police.

  2. So a student updating World of Warcraft is going to face 5 years and $250K for doing something perfectly legal? Bittorrent is WoW’s update tool…

  3. What are the chances that the local PD would investigate even one, let alone hundreds (or thousands?) of P2P violations? In my experience, they barely investigate robberies, let alone semi-abstract intertubes violations.

  4. Since the university is not actually promising any disciplinary action taken on actually using P2P, besides referral to the police station and vague threads about fines and jail time — which obviously can’t be carried out if the usage is legal — then there’s nothing actually stopping legitimate use of P2P.

    So the students should call the bluff and keep using P2P for legitimate means. If the university decides to go through with it’s stupid plan, all it can do will be to turn over evidence of legal activity to the police. No fines or jail time can result.

    In the best case scenario, the legitimate use will overwhelm the university and the police, who will stop caring (if they ever cared in the first place).

  5. I went to VSU and watched the administration make one stupid decision after another.

    I thoroughly enjoyed their installation of new, “motion-controlled” water fountains!

    Now, when I walk down the hallways, each water fountain that I pass starts dispensing.

    I think the school spent several thousand dollars on “re-tweaking” the fountains sensitivity! (I still can’t get any water out of them when I need a drink!)

  6. So, as a alumnus of the very accredited Valdosta State University, I emailed them with my concern. They immediately responded that the student paper had misquoted them and they have no intention of turning information over to police, and have not even settled on a P2P policy.

    Here is the quote from the reply:

    “The Spectator article was, unfortunately, factually in error. While our process is not yet defined, we currently do not hand over students to the Police nor have we purchased software to hunt them down and I cannot foresee that we would ever do so. I hope to have a correction made as soon as possible.”

    1. Thank you. Having even known student journalists at my alma mater, I was doubly a fool to take the article at its face value…

  7. That’s good, David, because it is ridiculous.

    They could have gone ahead with it and it wouldn’t have done anything other than screw over the local PD. I wonder if people who think P2P reporting is a good idea knows that games like WoW use P2P protocols for packet transfer? I mean, that’d be pretty hilarious to have the batphone go off every time someone logs into their night elf.

  8. Blizzard uses BT to push its patches. No more World of Warcraft on your free time, students! You’re going to prison!

  9. Factually incorrect?
    Even as we speak, they backpedal on the issue. Seems to me they’ve already had that little “unintended consequences” talk with the local dean of law there. Talk about abusing constitutional rights!
    I’d be more scared of the countersuit if I were them. Come on, you cannot deny that evidence of misuse means that it’s taking place everywhere, all the time, according to the RIAA and MPAA?
    They’d like to make you pay for each time you even see their product…..

    1. Yes and no. You can stop P2P if you block enough ports. (Of course you’ll eventually block all internet access that way.) Which is still stupid because there are many legitimate uses of P2P, including the fact that the world’s most popular MMO uses it to update their client. (WoW is not my MMO of choice, but others in the house play it.)
      Hell, you might as well block all electrical power use on the principle that somebody, somewhere will use it to cook meth.

  10. Actually, this is exactly the sort of policy that I would enact if I were a university president confronted with an RIAA/MPAA demand to police file sharing on campus.

    After the first semester of WoW, Open Office, and Linux users being turned over to the police on an hourly basis, I’m sure the school would receive a nice letter on city stationary explaining what a waste of time and resources it was, and threatening action if the school didn’t cease.

    I’m sure that letter would go a long way in explaining to the RIAA that they will not be getting ANY more cooperation from the university…

  11. as someone who has half of a master’s degree from that dump of a school (i don’t know about “very accredited;” the program i’m in is hardly accredited by the skin of its teeth), let me express my complete and utter lack of surprise.

    i’m already fed up enough with the ineptitude of this school’s administration and faculty that i’m just about ready to pay the out-of-state fees and go elsewhere come next fall. this sort of thing only adds to my determination.

  12. The VSU Spectator (the student newspaper) is notorious among faculty and staff for getting facts wrong, unfortunately.

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