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Education Your Rights Online

Univ. Help Desk Staffer Extorts Over Copyright Violations 153

Posted by timothy
from the judge-jury-and-accounts-payable dept.
McGruber writes "The Atlanta fishwrap is reporting that an University of Georgia 'IT security support' employee was accusing students of copyright violations, then demanding money to clear their names. Sounds like he's been caught stealing the RIAA business model."
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Univ. Help Desk Staffer Extorts Over Copyright Violations

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  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:23AM (#31010126)

    I don't know about UGA, but when I went to college all students were covered with free lawyers and lawyers-in-training from the law school on campus for any dispute that didn't involve the university. They helped me fight off an MPAA attack when they didn't like my posting on Slashdot.

    It should be a selling point to students that they'll be okay if they just need a little help by proving they did nothing wrong. Again, what side is UGA on here?

  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:26AM (#31010166)

    If you own the content and threaten to sue, it's good business. If you don't own the content and threaten to help someone sue, it's extortion.

    The blackmail is despicable. But the whitemail is hardly pristine.

  • by NevarMore (248971) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:28AM (#31010194) Homepage Journal

    This is actually a pretty common scam.

    1. Find something that the target group is aware of that "threatens" them
    2. Build up a cover that you are in a position to make that happen to them sooner
    3. Claim you can make it go away for $$$. Enough so you make some money, but low enough that the target can scrounge it up.
    3. ALTERNATE Pretend to be on the targets side. Say you can call a guy and do them a favor and be all sly and help a brother out for a few bucks compared to massive fines or legal action.
    4. Cover your tracks and don't get too greedy and be ready to drop and run. This is where the guy in the article failed.
    5. Profit

  • by SnapShot (171582) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:31AM (#31010234)

    Sounds interesting, is there a story behind that? What did you post on /. that got the MPAA's panties in a bunch?

  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:33AM (#31010268)

    ...and I think it's "asshole". Wow, what a jerk.

    That said, this is the sort of situation that inevitably arises when violating the law. If you steal cars, and someone steals your stolen goods -- or tries to extort protection money from you, who are you going to call? A considerable proportion of organized crime exists because of this quandary. Ergo, my guess is that the lid was blown off this situation when the miscreant, probably carelessly, tried to lean on a student who wasn't actually pirating anything.

  • by Xest (935314) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:37AM (#31010324)

    Yes, I'm intrigued to know too as it implies that Slashdot possibly handed over his details in response to a complaint from the MPAA.

  • Copyright Paranoia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ari_j (90255) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:14PM (#31010892)
    In a related issue, I recently had an eBay listing pulled, stating that a copyright holder had ordered it to be taken down for violating their copyright. It was in fact an original, unopened DVD package (not salable through Half.com). Not an unlawful copy, and explicitly allowed by the first-sale doctrine, which is part of US copyright law. I contacted eBay and they gave me an e-mail address to contact the "Verified Rights Owner (VeRO)", who has an agreement with eBay that requires them not to abuse their power to take down listings.

    In this case, the VeRO is well-known for taking down legitimate listings in order to ensure that nobody buys their product second-hand. The VeRO, of course, has zero incentive to do any investigation into whether they were incorrect, since (a) they already got their cookies by eliminating a market competitor and (b) eBay will not do anything about it if they were wrong. In my case, the VeRO contact person actually bragged to me about taking down "hundreds of listings every day."

    I've heard of similar stories involving other VeROs. The best part is that you can't relist the item safely, since it'll get taken down again and eBay will be happy to revoke your account if you have a couple of strikes for "copyright violation." It's a really crummy deal, but it's part of the copyright idiocy that we live with today. If you run a used bookstore or music store, I hope you have a good insurance policy and a lawyer on retainer. Someone is going to come in with the torches any day to make sure that people only buy new copies of their content. If we could do this to make other consumer goods more rapidly consumed, we'd be a step closer to a Brave New World.
  • by Bagels (676159) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:18PM (#31010984)
    ...or that it was publicly available from his account (in the form of email address or homepage link) at the time.

    I think I remember Slashdot being forced to turn over details in a Scientology case, but I don't remember any others.

  • by calibre-not-output (1736770) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:45PM (#31011382) Homepage
    The thing is, they don't have to prove they did nothing wrong. They just have to prove that the accusation's "proof" that they did something wrong is bull. The wonders of our legal system: innocent until proven guilty, much to the dismay of patent and copyright trolls everywhere.
  • by kkwst2 (992504) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:53PM (#31011550)

    Not sure who's on crack, but I disagree with you. His job from your quote was monitoring, which says nothing about "making copyright accusations" and certainly not extorting the students. So the GP (your parent) is more correct in my book.

    The GGP seems to think that just because the students are paying tuition that the university should just turn a blind eye to illegal activity on their network? That just doesn't make sense. Whether or not you think it should be illegal is another thing, but the school certainly has every right to monitor their networks.

  • by dragmar (808158) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:01PM (#31011670)
    If there is a position at a University created to monitor copyright violations, are they not acknowledging a copyright violation on their network is their responsibility and if violated can now be held accountable? (Please forgive my English, its my primary language)
  • by Ltap (1572175) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:26PM (#31012046) Homepage
    This is known as a Mexican Standoff - when two groups who are in trouble with the law, and neither group is able to turn the other in without incriminating/exposing themselves. The idea of police reducing sentences for people who provide evidence was designed to stop this; people then have a better chance of being able to turn in fellow criminals and not suffer as much as they would be if they had been turned in. The problem is that no "solution" to this problem is perfect, and there are endless Game Theory-esque permutations that arose when people tried to find one.
  • by ottothecow (600101) <ottothecowNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:18PM (#31012814) Homepage
    Yeah, his job only existed because they received so many RIAA requests that they needed a full time person to handle them...what a waste of money.

    For those who don't know...the setup with academic institutions (maybe tied to some payment/government funds/agreement) is that all the RIAA has to do is send them a letter with the IP and content. The school will then go and find the kid and give them some sort of a slap on the wrist and tell them not to do it again. At my university, they kicked you off the network until you talked to the assistant dean of students. First offense was a slap on the wrist (delivered with the apathetic "yeah...we have to do this...its wrong...don't do it again" that you would expect). Second offense was a $2000 fine. Third offense was unclear but involved a disciplinary hearing...doubt anyone ever got past the second offense.

    Compare this to how it works with a normal ISP: RIAA sends a letter with IP and content, ISP says "wtf is this?", RIAA says "we want their info", ISP says "as soon as you have a court order". ISP's have a bottom line to worry about and aren't going to pay someone to do what universities do (and their service agreements probably prevent it) and they are not going to turn over customer information without a subpoena (well...in theory). At the same time, the RIAA is not going to waste lawyer dollars getting a subpoena for every single infringer. It is much easier to spend the lawyer dollars writing letters to offenders with IP's in an academic institutions block--it kicks off one filesharer and scares them and their friends into being more careful in the future since they know that someone can see what they are doing.

  • by fibrewire (1132953) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:48PM (#31013170)

    THIS particular system is protected by the law - the college has no case against Dehelean

    Don't believe me? Look at http://www.bsa.org/ [bsa.org]

  • by eleuthero (812560) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:49PM (#31013190)
    Legally, yes. Should the law have existed, no. Just because Rosa Parks was used as a banner for a movement that needed to happen does not mean that her individual crime was good. The law must be upheld or we have chaos (I know, some of you would like this). I am glad that there is now greater equality between people (largely as a result of citizens acting within the law rather than, as with Rosa Parks, against it, however unjust - lawful assemblies, petitions, freedom marches, etc. - and even some of these were assaulted, though this was usually outside the law).

    Are there times when breaking the law is appropriate? Definitely - but over music or which seat/not-seat you are going to be on in a bus? I think not. If it is a matter of life or death (for instance with those who are oppressed in China, then breaking the law, which will have consequences, strikes me as appropriate).

    And yes, sadly I don't match my own standard, but we have to start somewhere.
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:56PM (#31013308)

    Here's the short version of the story.

    The MPAA tried to hit every IT program in the nation with a "if you didn't pay for it, you stole it" presentation. Word of this spread through /., so everyone saw it coming. Nearly everybody in the class walked out when the MPAA's presenter entered the room... she wanted to cancel the presentation when they saw just me left, but I told the professor I'd demand a refund for the skipped class if he didn't present something, so the MPAA lady went through the script.

    Then, it was time for questions. And I attacked the DVDCCA (DVD Copy Control Authority) by asking where they came from, who owned them, and who pays to keeps the lights on in their office. She nicely backed up in her presentation to show that they were paid for by the makers of DVD players, and they had to pay dues to this organization or you won't be able to play new DVD releases.

    Mentioned this on /. and then it just happens that my school's law program was also interested in this. Here was the theory... the DVDCCA had become an illegal cartel. DVD makers were being blackmailed to maintain compatibility, but they weren't the people gaining any benefit. There they go...

    And their first defense was to attack me. They tried to discredit me on /. but what they ended up doing was exposing their arguments to the world, and were being shot down by law students who knew more than me.

    So their next tactic was to offer me money to go away. I had a number in my head, but it was off by more than an order of magnitude from what they offered, so no deal.

    At this point, /. turned over my IP address and the university was tricked into giving away my phone number. They sent the team doing the MPAA movie downloader shakedowns to me. I was smart enough to not tell them how much I had for a long while, and then I called University Legal Services.

    I was connected with law professors at the university's law school and only had to tell them what I had done privately because they had already read and interacted with me on /. and knew the public writings of themselves, other /. users, and me.

    They gave me the key... tell the "collectors" after three calls that they were harassing me, then hide behind the University Legal Service's representation. They were flustered... I was basically inviting the lawsuit, and everybody involved was sure I'd win. Their handbook didn't cover that situation.

    So... now they've got a problem. We were dropping the c-word ("cartel") all over /. and they had no defense because they were guilty as charged on that. For a few days, it was thought that the DVDCCA would go bankrupt leading Hollywood to have to chose between unencrypted movies, or no further releases until a legal scheme could be thought up.

    Just in time... they solved their part of the puzzle. If the MPAA member studies wanted copy protection, they'd have to pay for it themselves. The DVDCCA started collecting a fee on each disc that used their technology, and argued that publishers would pass that extra dollar and change on to customers, and the $19.99 price would be replaced by $22.99 thanks to me. Um, that never happened!

    So, in the end I discovered something that the MPAA didn't like, and their first reaction was to accuse me of downloading I never did. When their proof on that came up empty, they then addressed the original problem.

  • by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewk@NOSpaM.gmail.com> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:51PM (#31014666)

    I am not equating, merely comparing. I do not believe that breaking unjust laws is unethical, regardless of magnitude.

How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else. -- R. Buckminster Fuller

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