LSU Starts Fining Students For File Sharing; But Seems Quite Confused About It

from the you-said-what-now? dept

P2P Blog points us to the news that Louisiana State University (LSU) is starting a program whereby it will fine students $50 for unauthorized file sharing. However, the quotes from the university representative seem quite confusing and oftentimes flat out incorrect. The reporter who wrote the article seems equally confused. Nowhere is it explained exactly how it will be determined that someone is actually sharing an unauthorized piece of work, or if there is any sort of actual due process involved at all. Instead, the school seems to think that any accusation means guilt automatically. They also claim, oddly, that the fines are “in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.” Please, someone, point out to me where it says in the DMCA that your ISP can fine you based on what it thinks you may have done wrong?

The LSU spokesperson, oddly claims that the RIAA’s “subpoena” costs $4,000, but that’s not true. What she means (I think) is that the RIAA often offers up a “we won’t sue you settlement at $4,000. That has nothing to do with the subpoena at all. Even more confusing, she claims that the settlement offer is for the RIAA’s “time”:

“Once they get a subpoena, they say ‘OK, person X, you’ve done this, now that’s $4,000 for our time.’ And you have 28 days or something ridiculous to pay it. If you don’t pay it, the fine goes up from there.”

That’s simply not true. First of all, the $4,000 is just a settlement offer. It’s not for their time, and it’s not a fine. The way she says it “goes up from there” makes it sound as if it’s a court granted fine that just keeps going up until you settle. That’s not true. Until a court says you need to pay, you don’t need to pay. It is an option to get the RIAA to leave you alone, but the RIAA doesn’t get to just fine you. But, the LSU folks don’t seem to get that. The author of the article doesn’t seem to get it either, at one point discussing how the RIAA “has the legal authority to take offenders to court” — um… anyone has the legal authority to take others to court in civil cases — and then confuses the civil infringement claims with criminal infringement, suggesting (incorrectly) that if the RIAA takes you to court, you could get “five years in prison.” You can only get jailtime in a criminal lawsuit, and, no, thankfully (not yet) the RIAA does not have the legal authority to charge you in criminal court.

The folks at LSU also seem quite confused about technology:

“When you transfer files, they’re called packets, and these packets can be identified as to what they are. Usually it’s through things like BitTorrent, or through LimeWire, or any other things that are shareware, where people put up stuff illegally or make it available illegally.”

Oh, and on top of that, apparently some universities have magically figured out how to stop file sharing. Wish I knew how:

“But there are places that have actually shut off the ability to do any sharing of files because they were getting so many complaints from the RIAA.”

And these are the folks who want to start fining people $50 for file sharing, when they don’t even seem to understand the law or the technology involved? That’s going to go over well…

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Comments on “LSU Starts Fining Students For File Sharing; But Seems Quite Confused About It”

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Anonymous Coward says:

"due process"

your commentary leaves out the fact that the only reason there’s any due process in this is because LSU is a government organization (a publicly funded school) and the government is required to give you due process.

nothing requires AT&T, Comcast, or Verizon to give you due process. if they really wanted, they could fine you $10,000 for every violation notice they received identifying you as long as you agreed in the ToS. of course, even if private ISPs were only charging $50, you know it’d end up on the radar of some politician.

as for the rest of your analysis, it’s generally correct. the big filtering software is Audible Magic’s Copysense, and it simply doesn’t work.

Silent Coward says:

Re: "due process"

AT&T, Comcast, or Verizon, etc cannot impose a fine on you. They do not have the authority to do so. What they can do is try to sue you and claim 10k worth of damages. Please, its time to be a silent coward.

“nothing requires AT&T, Comcast, or Verizon to give you due process.” Did you think before you spewed that? So they are above the law then? AC, do you work for the RIAA, Comcast, Verizon, etc?

“they could fine you $10,000 for every violation notice” Again did you think? If Verizon gets 10 notices claiming I was sharing from the RIAA, by your logic, I could then be fined 100 k? They can just make up arbitrary numbers? In what universe?

“as for the rest of your analysis,” Like you possess the skills to critique TechDirt’s articles.

AC, I am fining you 10k for a stupid comment, another 10k for a stupid username, and another 10k for S&G.

Where’s my money?

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Re: "due process"

“AT&T, Comcast, or Verizon, etc cannot impose a fine on you. They do not have the authority to do so.”

What you missed is the OP said: “as long as you agreed in the ToS [Terms of Service].” A ToS is a binding legal contract. You can say anything you want in a contract (that isn’t illegal), and if the other party agrees to it, they are bound by it.

If you agree to pay $10,000 for every violation notice they receive in your ToS, then yes, you have to pay it. That’s why you read the fine print.

DJ (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That would require the existence of one. So far, the legal track record shows that there isn’t a single attorney out there who knows what technology is, let alone how it works.
So if you’re reading this and you’re an attorney who DOES know, please please please please please go slap your colleagues (all of them) upside the head, and get involved.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

New Rule

If you, the supposed authority handing out fines, can’t beat the “offender” in terms of total score on a 100 question quiz on the actual technology they are supposed to have illegitamately used, you don’t get to fine them.

Because when I hear things like “”But there are places that have actually shut off the ability to do any sharing of files because they were getting so many complaints from the RIAA.”” I immediately start slapping my forehead and nashing my teeth, while in my mind the sound of pandemonium and 300 monkeys shitting themselves play on loop until I go pound another double-cup of coffee.

If others have shut off filesharing (which I can gurantee you they haven’t), then FUCKING DO THAT AND LEAVE EVERYONE ELSE ALONE!!!! That way the REAL illegal filesharers can just go further underground and continue sharing while you pat yourselves on the back and the RIAA figures out ANOTHER way and reason to fine you.


AJ says:

Supply and Demand

So they start charging the students in error, the students get pissed and raise all kinds of hell. The school tries to defend its position, then looks stupid and tries to shut up the student, and/or points the finger at the AA’s (Streisand effect in full swing). Then the school starts loosing money and decides that in may be in their best interest to actually have some kind of real proof that the file the student is sharing is illegal, and that the student in question is the person doing the actual sharing. Figures out how much it’s going to cost them all combined, and then tells the AA’s to get undeniable proof, or go fly a kite. I thought we had already been thru all this nonsense.

Anonymous Howard, Cowering says:

@ New Rule – Dark Helmet

Love your posts. The monkeys were a nice, evocative mental image.

Gnash your teeth, though, please (after your coffee, of course, which should also make your guarantee better). The thought of you making dentition into a small defunct automobile is weirdly disturbing.
@ AC, above:

Allow? It’s a state school – Louisanians pay taxes so they can be idiots. Although, in all fairness to the actual teaching faculty at LSU, these are probably non-academic administrative idiots with fancy advanced idiot degrees from some mail-order school in the Seychelles. $700 and you, too, can be Master (or even doctor) of all you survey…

usmcdvldg says:

Re: Re:

I understand a school newspaper isn’t the New york times but f’in Christ.

It is a university, I’m sure they have editors, I know middle school students that could have put a better article than that together.

Not to mention the fact the writer, being in a university, SHOULD be surrounded by knowledgeable people that can easily verify and explain the technical and legal aspects of an issue.

That schoo shoud be EMBARRASSED!

Osno (profile) says:

If freakonomics is right, file sharing in LSU will raise. First, they are making students aware that they can do it, and next the charge (when found) is relatively low. The next thing that will happen is the MAFIAA suing this students (I really really don’t think they’ll love the 50 bucks idea). So the students, who thought they had paid for their “crime” will face court charges, and then they’ll be really pissed off.

Oh, and the article is absurd, bla, bla.

Anonymous Coward says:

Computer Science department vs bean-counting IT department

There is a huge difference between the “Computer Science Department” where they teach Computer Science and the IT department that runs the campus computer system. Chances are very good that the person who runs the IT department is good at management (alternately good at kissing the right posteriors) and has limited technical knowledge. It sounds to me like the LSU document was written by someone who had picked up just enough tech terms to be really, really dangerous.

Oh, and the 4K settlement agreement is pretty much a flat charge because most students don’t have the resources to fight it. Who says the RIAA doesn’t have a great business model?

Rosedale (profile) says:

Re: Computer Science department vs bean-counting IT department

Indeed there is a huge difference between the teaching departments and the hired pay. But the CS department can and should step in to clarify the blatant misinformation. Which is why I said they are either incompetent or mortified. If it is the latter than it is excusable and all things should be cleared up in short order. Same goes for their legal school.

Michael Witt (profile) says:

What’s interesting is that they do something similar (I think) at my school, yet no one complains about it (unless they get caught). Michigan Tech assigns each student a static IP address for each MAC address they have registered. So we get nice, distinct, static IPs in our dorms (you have to renew them every semester, but who cares?). That way, if they get a DMCA request from the RIAA/MPAA, they cut off your internet access, and fine you $100. When you pay the $100, your internet access is restored. This is all through a deal with the RIAA/MPAA, in which the settlement amount is lowered to $100, with repeat offenders getting internet access cut off permanently.

This isn’t to say that I agree with it, but it sounds to me like LSU’s plan is similar to MTU’s, only LSU’s policy isn’t nearly as clear.

minijedimaster (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So anyone at MSU can be charged $100 just for being accused of file sharing copyrighted material? Seems to me a good racket to get in on. Find the block of IP’s that the students are assigned, start writing bogus letters that say this IP at this time bla bla bla was sharing and make a $100 bucks off of it. Rinse/repeat ala 20,000 times per year.

Matt says:

Proof of Sharing?

Apparently we’re back to “Making Available” = “Distributing”

“Thompson said the RIAA monitors ports to see if they have left any music files that belong to the RIAA open to the public.”

I hope some student spoof’s his IP to match a printer causing $4000 in fines assessed to some HPLaserJet. It’s Not like they (RIAA) havn’t done it in the past

jared Moya says:

$50 fine intended to recoup DMCA costs

Whomever wrote the article is an idiot, the fine is to recoup costs of DMCA notification and education. From the LSU IT Dept.

“As of August 1, 2009, students implicated in a DMCA copyright violation (and upon verification) will be assessed a $50 fine, charged to the student’s Bursar account. This fine is not intended to generate profit; rather, it provides a mechanism for recovering costs incurred in reviewing and processing DMCA notifications, and funding programs for awareness (e.g., education and ad campaign costs). LSU is not the first institution to charge a fee for copyright violations – several other institutions also charge fees for DMCA violations.”

Ian L (profile) says:

A few comments

1. Verizon can charge a fee, not a fine. But if you agree to the TOS and it’s held up in court, it can be chaarged, and you gotta pay or you’re breaking your side of the contract.
3. You CANNOT stop illegal file sharing without breaking your network. My school slows down torrent file downloads. Solution: download ’em over HTTPS or as text files. My school has everyone behind a firewall, but everyone has a static non-NATed IP address so I’ve gotten some crazy fast downloads on…wait for it…the 96 KHz versions of Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts album set. Yep, BitTorrent can be legal, folks.
4. Only dumb kids who should be buying music from iTunes get caught on the whole illegal file sharing thing anyway. Private torrent trackers are rather heavily vetted so you pretty much don’t get any *AA moles in there.
5. Who downloads music anymore, if you indeed have a cushy campus connection to ride on? I only download MP3s (Napster subscription, with BitTorrent as my backup in case the one-time song download fails, which has happened several times over the past week) if I’m going to be out of internet range or if my internet connection is dog slow. At a university, neither is the case…
6. In terms of “education”, universities should simply make students aware of the legal options available that are quite cheap, especially compared with dealing with the *AAs. has streamable songs for ten cents apiece (less for albums) and Napster has unlimited streaming and five downloads for $5 per month. Granted, neither service gives you unlimited iPod-able music, but hopefully the new KaZaA service, at $20 per month, will do that.
7. Either the school newspaper or the IT department don’t know what they’re talking about. Could very well be either, but if it’s the newspaper I’d like to take the reporter and slap them around because they’re doing discredit to decent on-cmapus news sources. My school’s paper being one of them (I write most of the tech stuff in it…I’ll avoid the shameless plug and make you dig through a few layers of links to find out which paper this is because our website needs a little help).

Guess that’s about it. Personally, IF I did do an illegal download and IF that download could’ve been gotten DRM-free online for a cheap amount, I’m perfectly fine with paying a $50 “You idiot” fee. But I’ll bet the false positives in the system will ruin it, and the writers of the article had everything screwed up.

kendall r says:


I didn’t think schools could get stupider. Glad I’m not going to LSU. If you’re just simply using Limewire, how are they certain it’s copyright infringement? In fact, how can they be sure that any sharing or downloading you do is infringing? Look at the names of the song? Maybe they didn’t know, but I could name some outdated 50’s song (with no copyright) “Stay High” by Three Six Mafia. How would I be able to prove myself innocent?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Student newspapers are just that – student newspapers! They are places for learning and making mistakes. They should not be used as a primary source of information about what is going on at LSU. Yes there is a fine in place. No, the spokesperson is not a total moron – she is just written that way.

Lemme guess… you attend/work at LSU? How about rather than yelling at us for discussing what was published in a newspaper, you add to it and correct what was wrong? Otherwise, we can only assume that the original report was accurate, and you’re just upset about how that makes LSU appear.

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