ITS remains diligent as illegal downloads increase

The Internet has changed the way people consume movies and music, but it hasn’t changed the right of ownership of copyrighted materials. If you are illegally downloading content on the university campus, chances are Jeff Gardiner knows about it.

Western’s Central Information Security Officer fields hundreds of notices each month sent to Information Technology Services (ITS) alleging copyright infringements. In 2016, Gardiner has received an average of 242 notices a month – an increase from 171.5 in 2015 and 87.6 in 2014

The vast majority of those are users downloading movies or digital media via wireless or RezNet (the Western-provided Internet service in residences). Of 3,842 of three infractions since March 2014, 2,764 are wireless users and 1,078 are from RezNet users. The highest single month was in November 2015, with more than 490 copyright infringement complaints.

“User habits are changing, but also the degree to which access to information, even illegal information, is increasingly becoming easier,” Gardiner said.

“We have been called in the past to investigate the illegal sharing of copyright materials by way of BitTorrent, an Internet application that allows for the distributed sharing of files. Needless to say, Western, as an Information Age business, many whose researchers themselves are copyright holders, takes copyright pretty seriously.”

The Copyright Modernization Act requires Internet service providers to take action upon receiving a notice of alleged copyright infringement from a copyright owner. Under the Notice and Notice regime, Western is required to forward notices from copyright owners alleging abuse to the identified users and then notify the copyright owner the notice has been sent.

The complaint includes the IP address, time of the alleged infraction and the copyrighted material identified to be falsely copied or shared without permission of the copyright holder.

Western is required to keep records of the notices for no less than six months and up to a year. If ordered to do so by a court, the university is required to release subscriber information to the copyright owner as part of a copyright infringement lawsuit.

“In the case where someone has successfully been identified, they are obligated to act,” Gardiner said. “In the case where we’re not able to identify a suspect or culprit, we’re still required to notify the copyright complainant that we were not able to take those steps.”

The ITS security team has an inventory of all computers connected to the university network. This helps Gardiner and his team identify the owner of the computer and the information technology group responsible for that faculty or unit. Typically, the information technology group provides confirmation the material has been deleted.

“People are surprised when they actually receive notice that a complaint has been made. Internal to Western, we have worked out how to efficiently find the people responsible and provide notice,” he said, noting the university has been able to automate the Notice and Notice regime.

“We make the assumption that when we pass notice on to the group within the Western environment and they pass notice along to the user, people are fundamentally honest,” he continues. “We credit people with good will. There are flaws in the system, but Western doesn’t have infinite resources to track this down. It has to be best effort.”

Since Western acts as an Internet service provider, in the case of RezNet, the university has an obligation to forward allegations of infringements, however it is not liable for the copyright infringements. Under the Copyright Modernization Act, “providers of Internet or network services are not liable for copyright infringement, to the extent they are only acting as intermediaries with respect to communication, caching and hosting activities.”

The ubiquity of the Internet often leads people to believe information is free, however there is intellectual property involved in creating this information, explained Copyright Librarian Tom Adam.

“There’s this feeling the Internet is there for us to use and sometimes we don’t consider the cost of that. It appears it comes into our house or office and it’s free, without thinking that there is intellectual activity that has gone on to get that stuff there, and there are rights involved that need to be considered,” Adam said.

Detection of copyright infringements has become more sophisticated, noted Adam, adding film and television production companies are increasingly hiring firms to do this work for them and is likely the reason for increased notices.

While the Copyright Office has primarily focused on research and teaching, Adam feels it is important to educate community members, particularly in the residences, about copyright literacy, which extends to practices during leisure time as well.

“It’s not a question of blame; it’s a question of being aware there are consequences. You always leave a footprint whenever you click on the web,” he noted. “The Notice and Notice regime in Canada has, at its core, an education purpose.”

By signing onto Western’s Internet, users have a responsibility to adhere to the terms of use and not participate in illegal activity, he continues. While he doesn’t believe illegal downloading will be completely eradicated on campus, Adam feels copyright literacy is important and must continue to be a priority for Western’s community.

“It boils down to a responsibility for the responsible use of information,” he said. “Things, for the most part, aren’t free. There are certain responsibilities we have when we employ the work of others.”