Surf's up: file sharing on uni networks

Institutions are learning how to regulate the use of their networks

A survey by the Oxford Internet Institute in 2007 found that students are the “most active users of online entertainment and social networking sites”. The social aspect of the internet becomes even more important at university when keeping in contact and up to date with your mates across the country and on campus.

The face of learning is also changing at universities across the UK. Just as the internet and its applications – such as e-mail, online shopping and social networking – have changed our lives, so too has it influenced the way students learn and access information.

The range of content available to students is increasing. Online Public Access Catalogues (Opacs) for course information, examination details, university and college timetables and even the content of some text books, are published online.

The dilemma of file sharing

The majority of UK universities offer internet access for students and most have wi-fi access on campus or in halls. However, unlike private internet access in your own home, university facilities differ in what they allow to be used on their networks. Peer-topeer (p2p) software, where users share files – sometimes illegally – across a network, is often restricted, although university authorities do admit that this is increasingly difficult to regulate.

Marcus Liassides, chief executive of Inuk Networks, who supply a service called Freewire TV to approximately 120,000 students in 40 halls of residence in the UK, says:“Illegal file-sharing enabled universities to take a fairly hard line, but now legitimate services such as iPlayer and 4oD are using similar p2p delivery mechanisms the issue has become more clouded.

“Different universities run different policies and apply different network management rules to the way they deal with file-sharing and p2p software, largely dependent on the health of their network and their position on net neutrality.” Although no UK universities have been prosecuted over copyright infringements, EMI, Sony and Universal did start proceedings in 2003 against universities in Australia.

Craig Hickson, head of the Business Support Centre at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) says: “Where a service will cause us bandwidth problems or is clearly illegal, they [students] need to be restricted.

This is particularly true for gaming, TV streaming and other video services. If we did not do so, the volume of traffic would begin to impede the activities of other areas of the university.”

UK universities have strict access policies and are constantly monitoring content, both externally and internally. Some universities impose fines on students that are caught withfile-sharing software; at the very least it will have to be uninstalled and students will have to explain their actions to university authorities.

“Stick to the legal sites, and if you are in any doubt about what is legal, ask,” Hickson adds. ”The film and music industry are working on new tactics to stem the circulation of illegal copies of their material and are targeting a number of users to warn or prosecute as an example.”

When accepted at an institution, students are provided with a university-based e-mail address and password access to university networks. These offer comprehensive information and support on university life. You should be able to find help via these networks before you arrive for your first classes; in fact, you can even share it with your course mates.

Web watch

British Phonographic Industry

Advice on what illegal file-sharing is and where to find legal music downloads

Federation Against Software Theft

Definitions and clarifications about software theft

Oxfam Music

Download legally and donate to charity at the same time

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