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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 @11:16AM (#31010050)

    Seems like universities don't understand who's paying the bills... this job shouldn't have existed in the first place. Nobody from the school should be in the business of making copyright accusations. That's the RIAA's job, and they're doing a heck of a job.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by KDR_11k (778916)

      Doesn't seem like that was actually a part of his job, he was just blackmailing them with information he misappropriated from work.

      • by russotto (537200) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:29AM (#31010212) Journal

        Mods on crack as usual. GP (modded "Troll") is correct (according to the article, anyway) and parent (modded "Informative") is wrong.

        Dehelean was employed in IT security support, according to police. He reportedly was in charge of monitoring illegal music downloads on university computers.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by kkwst2 (992504)

          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

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Runaway1956 (1322357)

            "but the school certainly has every right to monitor their networks."

            I disagree - strongly. The school is NOT supposed to be a police force, period. The ONLY things a campus should police is the physical safety of it's staff, students, and visitors. No school should attempt to be the moral enforcement arm of government, or of corporate America. I find it offensive to think that some schools aid and abet the extortion racket that RIAA engages in.

            • by tkohler (806572) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:15PM (#31012776)
              TFA says the position was to monitor "University Computers". The university DOES have a right and obligation to keep their own computers (I assume this means office workers, staff, labs and etc.) free of "illegal" downloads, especially since the RIAA would likely see the university as a deep pocket, not to mention viruses, malware and other costly IT problems. I agree with your point for student-owned computers, even using the university network.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Mr. Freeman (933986)
                The university has no obligation to do a god damned thing with their computers. Sure, they might want to keep it free of certain stuff, but there's no obligation to. What the RIAA says the university should be responsible for and what they're actually responsible for are two separate things.
          • by ottothecow (600101) <ottothecow@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> 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 dirtyJay (817473) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:58PM (#31013330)
              I work on a campus as well, and we do pretty much the same thing. It's not our job to police the students systems, if they want to steal crap virus infected music that's okay with me. But when they do it over our network there's hell to pay. We currently use a 3 strikes policy, we look for specific protocols, not data itself, and if we detect torrent or generic p2p traffic we disable their internet access. Once that happens they need to go to the student IT office to have their systems checked out and any offending apps removed. We always give them the choice not to remove the apps, but we wont allow them on our network until removal is verified. On the 3rd offense they need to set up a meeting with the dean of students to have their access restored. Very rarely does it get this far. On another front, if we detect that type of activity on a staff system they're reprimanded and educated about the risks associated, then fired on the spot if it happens again. We don't do this because of any extortion attempts by the RIAA, for us its purely a security and bandwidth based decision.
              • by ottothecow (600101) <ottothecow@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @03:24PM (#31013656) Homepage
                Wow guys...seems kind of harsh. Detecting bittorrent or generic p2p equals an access ban? Are you sure you are a regular /. poster and not a clueless manager?

                My school did NOT do this. My school did nothing at all unless they recieved a DMCA notice from a content owner. I believe my school even maintained a page with instructions on how to disable content uploading in popular programs like limewire. No administrator of an academic network in their right mind would disable any port/protocol...college students get really uppity on things like freedom of speech and computer science students get really angry when they can't pull down legit linux ISO torrents (and lets not forget about the wow players who need their updates).

                You should only be disabling access after a confirmed infraction. My school took the DMCA notice and compared it to their logs before taking any action...and yes, there were occasions where they determined that it was an incorrect notice and the user could not have caused the infraction.

              • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

                But.. P2P protocols have significant non-infringing uses. The IP protocol itself is P2P. Filtering on protocol is stupid IMO. Do you block gopher, FTP and Usenet as well?
              • You kick users off the network for using bittorrent and you don't look at the data itself.... I'm not entirely sure how you could possibly be more stupid. And "virus infected music"? Do you even work in IT?
            • What in the hell kind of ISP do you have and where can I sign up. I'm on comcrap right now and they're more than happy to send out these letters the second anyone from the RIAA or an unlicensed team says that "such and such an IP was downloading illegal stuff".
        • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

          by JerryLove (1158461)

          He reportedly was in charge of monitoring illegal music downloads on university computers.

          Wouldn't this be more useful to stop than just monitor?

          In Soviet Russia: Music downloads you.

  • by biryokumaru (822262) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:18AM (#31010068)
    This is why we need business method patents!
  • 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 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 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.

        • 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 Tim C (15259)

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

            Or, they've happened, but Slashdot is keeping quiet about it... </conspiracy>

          • by Xest (935314)

            Yeah, that's why I said possibly. It'd be nice to have a clarification either way.

      • by maxume (22995)

        I bet it was trollish lies.

      • 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 Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:11PM (#31010828) Homepage Journal

      My guess is that the university hired this guy to avoid having to provide legal aid to students -- i.e., catch them before the RIAA does and handle the matter internally. It would be nice if they took a hard line in defense of students' rights instead, but you can't necessarily expect them to do that. It seems like universities' responses to the RIAA's anti-student campaign have been all over the map. A few do defend their students to the end, more actively collaborate with the RIAA, and most are somewhere in the middle. State schools are in a particular bind, of course, since (a) most of them are having serious financial problems these days, and (b) they depend for much of their budgets on easily-bought state legislators.

    • by Pharmboy (216950) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:34PM (#31011212) Journal

      ?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.

      The fact that the burden of proof is on the students to begin with shows how fucked up the system is.

  • 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.

    • How can you possibly "own content?" I believe you mean, "hold a copyright on the media."
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        How can someone possibly "hold copyright on the media"? I believe you mean "hold copyright on a creative work".

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by RulerOf (975607)

          How can someone possibly "hold copyright on the media"?

          Blu-Ray, anyone?

          • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

            Circumventing DRM on a bluray disc counts as circumvention of a copyright protection measure. That is DMCA territory, related to copyright, but not totally the same thing.

            And yes, the DMCA is absolute bullshit, I agree.

            • by RulerOf (975607)
              Heh, I wasn't referring to DRM, but rather to Blu-Ray itself. As I understand it, I recall that being a producer of Blu-Ray media requires hefty licensing requirements. Hence, a "copyright" on the "media."
              • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

                Bluray wouldn't be copyright'd, but rather patented. In order to make a bluray player you need to license the technology, which I imagine is some sort of package deal of patents and trademarks (so you can legally call your product a "bluray" player and whatnot). The actual documents that describe the spec may be copyrighted, but the technology would be patented.

                Patent and copyright law are two seperate beasts, but that is often overlooked. Probably because often people (particularly here on slashdot) hav

                • by RulerOf (975607)

                  Bluray wouldn't be copyright'd, but rather patented.

                  I wanted to thank you, actually, for pointing that out. I usually try to keep myself mindful of that difference, but of course in pursuit of a cheap joke... ;)

                  I suppose what I was really going after was the fact that royalties and licensing are still involved. Reminds me of HDMI, h264, Blu-Ray, et. al.

      • I believe you mean, "hold a copyright on the media."

        Ah, it shows again why discussions on copyright are so often confusing, as people don't even understand the underlying concepts.

        You can "hold a copyright" on the content. That is: the data (or recorded signal in case of analog media), the intangible asset. What you "hold" is basically a legal agreement between a group of people (read: in the form of copyright laws & international treaties). No less, no more. This is the valueable part, and is what's usually meant when referring to "content owner". In

    • by JSBiff (87824) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:55AM (#31010600) Journal

      I'm really sick of all the idiots on the Internet who really see no difference between someone protecting the legal rights granted to them by Congress (who received a mandate [or if mandate is too strong a word, at least explicit permission] to do so directly from the Constitution), and some idiot who has no right to ask you for money.

      Now, I know someone is going to bring up an argument that RIAA are a bunch of rent-seeking squatters who screw the artists, and it should be the artists who hold the copyrights, not RIAA which is a third party, so how is the RIAA any different from the guy in this article? Here's the simple truth: the difference is that the artists agreed to the terms offered to them by the RIAA member labels, and received compensation. Now, I'm no fan of the RIAA. I think the best thing that could happen to music would be for a few other labels to arise that truly compete with the RIAA (both competing to sign artists with more favorable terms, and competing to sell the products to customers with more favorable terms), but the fact remains that the artists signed away their copyrights and accepted the money. Even though they may have been in a position where they didn't think they could get better terms from any other labels, ultimately they are adults who voluntarily accepted those terms, and made a business deal, and the RIAA has done nothing illegal. The copyright statutes allow for the transfer of copyright.

      So long as the RIAA-members have legally obtained their copyrights, they are well within their legal rights. If you don't like the way the copyright laws currently exist, then you need to work hard to get them changed. But, it's easier to just violate copyright law than to actually effect change (either by getting a popular movement started to change copyright and convince people that the changes are just and necessary, OR by starting up some competition and letting the Free Market solve the problem - both of which are hard work), so people take the lazy way out. They just make illegal copies, and blame everybody else.

      • I feel the need to point out the exception of "fair use". That is predicted in the law and the RIAA, MPAA et. al. choose to ignore it anyway. when they do that, they're acting illegally, committing blackmail and just being general assholes. Of course they're assholes either way, but in the other cases they do it legally.
      • Congress (who received a mandate [or if mandate is too strong a word, at least explicit permission] to do so directly from the Constitution)

        Mandate is too strong a word. The Constitution empowers Congress to grant copyrights, or not, as they see fit, subject to a few restrictions, but it neither requires them to do so, nor encourages them.

        • Mandate is too strong a word. The Constitution empowers Congress to grant copyrights, or not, as they see fit, subject to a few restrictions, but it neither requires them to do so, nor encourages them.

          Not quite "as they see fit". There are 2 important restrictions:

          • it must be limited in time
          • it must be "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts"

          Intellectual property law as it stands today respects neither. Mickey Mouse copyright is perpetual for all practical purposes. DRM stifles the improvement of Science (by restricting what devices may be made). Software patents stifle the innovation in that area.

          So Congress did not receive permission to pass these "laws" from the constitution. So any titl

          • Not quite "as they see fit". There are 2 important restrictions:

            * it must be limited in time
            * it must be "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts"

            There's a few more restrictions. The clause is "The Congress shall have power . . . To promote the progress of science . . . by securing for limited times to authors . . . the exclusive right to their respective writings . . . ."

            So if we are to have copyrights, they must: Promote the progress of

      • by JerryLove (1158461) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:21PM (#31011980)

        And if the RIAA were practicing due dilligence to avoid accusing the innocent, and if the RIAA were making sure to only persue copyrights it actually owns, and if the RIAA were behaving legally and ethically in its investigation, and if the RIAA was attempting a good-faith protection of copyright (they seem to just see this as a revenue stream), and if the penalties were sane, then I would agree with you.

        I support copyright, though I oppose that it's been extended to a century or more here in the US. I oppose piracy when there are good legitemate alternatives. That's a far cry from supporting an organization that takes exorbitant money from the innocent because it can.

      • So long as the RIAA-members have legally obtained their copyrights, they are well within their legal rights. If you don't like the way the copyright laws currently exist

        To be fair, I think there are a number of issues at stake here:

        • How fairly were those rights obtained? We live in a much more complicated society today than in the mid 18th century, and the extent to which a small number of organisations have systematically set themselves up to screw the very people upon whose output they depend and yet continue to get away with it was probably never dreamed of. If there was real competition, a record label could openly embrace a "Do no evil" policy and promptly swallow u
    • by jgtg32a (1173373)

      The RIAA isn't threatening to sue, its more you broke the law, here's a settlement and we don't go to the courts who are going to fine you 2x what we are offering.
       
      That being said I would like to see a requirement that the courts need be notified of these dealings.

      • > The RIAA isn't threatening to sue...

        Yes they are.

        > ...it's more you broke the law...

        The law gives them the right to sue by making copyright infringement a tort.

        > ...the courts who are going to fine you...

        It is not a fine. It is an award of damages. Fines go to the government. Damage awards go to the plaintiff.

  • 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 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 ari_j (90255)
      Another word: racket [wikipedia.org]
    • by moeinvt (851793)

      Agreed, the guy's a complete arsehole

      Recall however that in a "protection racket" ,contrary to popular fiction, there is often an actual service provided, and a profit motive involved. In your analogy, the person stealing cars is financially motivated, and is giving up a share of the profits for protection. This guy's scheme is simple blackmail. "Give me money, or I'll rat you out". If the person had been downloading content for financial gain and the guy had offered to keep the log files clean in excha

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Ltap (1572175)
      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
  • Local copy (Score:4, Informative)

    by richwmn (621114) <<moc.eihcet> <ta> <hcir>> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @11:33AM (#31010270)
    Article in the Athens (home of UGa) paper -- http://onlineathens.com/stories/020310/uga_558085836.shtml [onlineathens.com].
  • Can anyone name a carreer field where corruption hasn't existed? Seems like there's always at least one guy(or girl) figuring out if it's profitable or not.
  • 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.
    • Sounds like something to let the media blow out of proportion. Ars Technia might give half a shit if you have enough documentation, CNN won't.
      • by ari_j (90255)
        I was hoping it would get blown out of proportion by a class-action attorney. ;)
  • ...seems to me that this could end up being a good thing. IT staffer extorts students, making sure to conspicuously duplicate the RIAA's methods, and in court, he offers the RIAA defense. The jury rightfully swats this down and convicts him of extortion. Now, future victims of RIAA extortion lawsuits have a precedent to point to. Maybe he planned this whole thing to make noise and draw attention to the despicable RIAA methods, but then maybe I'm interpreting altruistic motives where none exist.
  • . . . is on the path to an MBA or law school and then into politics.

    Be very afraid.

  • 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)
  • I constantly wondered to myself "isn't threatening to report criminal activity if someone doesn't give you money extortion?" Glad to see it confirmed.

    Now we need to start moving to prosecute the RIAA. They either need to report every copyright violation to the police, or quit extorting people.

  • We had text based Gopher and Pine, and we were damn happy to have it. IRC blew our minds, when I could type and flame someone in real time.

    To play video games we had 2400 baud modems, and I would call the room across from me, and neither one of us could use the phone. Alternatively we could sit next to each other and use the same computer.

    I barely passed University with all these distractions when you add a health dose of booze and women to the mix.

    I have no idea how anyone graduates anymore. I think that i

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