This is slightly off-topic, but I just got busted for file sharing.
Specifically, I got a letter from the CIO of USC a few days ago saying that [NETWORK] caught me downloading two episodes of [TV show] (great finale, btw) via bittorrent last fall. Then, two days later, I received another letter from the CIO, saying that [NETWORK] had caught me again. But the torrent they listed was identical to one of the two in the previous complaint. This second letter had a signed note attached to it saying that it was my second offense in the "last couple of days" which is of course absurd, given that it was the same year-old offense that was mentioned in the previous letter.
So I dashed off an email response to the CIO. I was going to keep it to myself, because it's fairly personal and petty, but then I figured, how many people out there are getting these kinds of bullying letters from universities every day? And how many of them instantly kowtow to the university's demands, because they are not aware of their own rights, or unable to elaborate the ethical subtleties of file sharing? (For more on this, see my interview in the LAist from a few months back). Such people, I figured, could use an ally.
Below is the full text of my letter. If you found this page by searching google or some other site for remedies against the injustices of property-mad media companies and the betrayals of cowardly, craven ISPs, I wholeheartedly encourage you to use my letter as a jumping-off point for your own, and to go down fighting in a blaze of glory. Rock on.
I am writing in response to your letters of August 17th and August 19th, 2005. I am concerned because I feel your letters represent a threat to my good standing with the university and because they fail to take into account several mitigating factors, outlined below:
notices are redundant.
Your letter of August 19th warns me that the enclosed complaint is the second you received within “the last couple days,” and that the “next offense will be referred to Student Conduct.” However, the violation referenced in the August 19th letter refers to the same bittorrent file that was referenced in your earlier letter of August 17th. I feel it is both misleading and unfair to consider them separate conduct violations, and therefore the “second violation” does not justify a referral to Student Conduct should a “third” come to your attention.
notices refer to year-old violations.
The bittorrent files referenced in your letters were downloaded a year ago. Your first letter encourages me to “cease this activity immediately,” yet even if I comply with your request (as I plan to), I cannot guarantee that you will not receive further notices of violations that occurred subsequent to the ones you reference yet prior to my cessation of file sharing pursuant to your request. Therefore, I feel it would be unfair to treat such violations as a rejection or refusal to comply with your demands, and unfair to treat such violations as justification for referral to Student Conduct.
sharing is my area of study and expertise.
Although I admit to downloading content I wish to view for entertainment purposes (i.e. [TV show]), my primary purpose in using file sharing networks is research, not entertainment. I am an “expert” in the field of online file sharing, with a paper trail to prove it. I have published both corporate and academic research on the subject, and served as a public voice in the media and at conferences regarding file sharing since the phenomenon first emerged six years ago. In fact, I was an expert witness for the defense in the recent lawsuit MGM vs. Grokster, which was eventually decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Before I am referred to Student Conduct, I would ask that you consider my research and pedagogical purposes for file sharing, and even consider granting me permission to continue file sharing for these purposes.
privacy rights have not been adequately addressed.
According to the Federal Appeals court ruling in the Verizon file sharing lawsuit, ISPs such as USC are not legally bound to reveal personal information such as customers’ names to content providers seeking to serve subpoenas on downloaders. Consequently, I would consider the release of such information by USC a violation of my privacy rights and would be forced to consider legal action for prevention and remedy of said violation. Furthermore, I am not certain that monitoring my software and network usage habits is either ethical or legal, considering that the ISP is not legally compelled to do so. I would encourage you to consider your students’ privacy rights at least equally as important as the intellectual property rights claimed by companies such as [NETWORK].
In closing, I will abide by your request to cease using file sharing software on the USC network unless we reach an explicit agreement allowing me to continue for research purposes. But I strongly urge you to consider the mitigating factors I outlined above before pursuing disciplinary action of any type against me, or revealing any further personal information about me to third parties without my permission.
I would be glad to discuss any of these issues in greater detail at your convenience. I can be reached via email at [email], or via phone at [phone].