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 /.)