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MPAA College Toolkit Raises Privacy, Security Concerns 188

An anonymous reader writes "The Motion Picture Association of America last month sent letters to the presidents of 25 major universities (pdf), urging them to download and install a 'university toolkit' to help identify students who were downloading/sharing movie files. The Washington Post's Security Fix blog reports that any university that installs the software could be placing a virtual wiretap on their networks for the MPAA (and the rest of the world) to listen in on all of the school's traffic. From the story: 'The MPAA also claims that using the tool on a university network presents "no privacy issues — the content of traffic is never examined or displayed.' That statement, however, is misleading. Here's why: The toolkit sets up an Apache Web server on the user's machine. It also automatically configures all of the data and graphs gathered about activity on the local network to be displayed on a Web page, complete with ntop-generated graphics showing not only bandwidth usage generated by each user on the network, but also the Internet address of every Web site each user has visited. Unless a school using the tool has firewalls on the borders of its network designed to block unsolicited Internet traffic — and a great many universities do not — that Web server is going to be visible and accessible by anyone with a Web browser."
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MPAA College Toolkit Raises Privacy, Security Concerns

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  • by mdmkolbe ( 944892 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:08PM (#21454319)
    I don't see the universities listed anywhere in the article. Which ones are they? We need to know so we can write them letters.
  • by purpledinoz ( 573045 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:09PM (#21454323)
    This makes no sense. What are they going to accomplish by going after college kids, who really don't have that much disposable income? It seems counter-productive to me. You piss off a bunch of college kids, who can't afford to spend money on movies anyway, and who are going to earn money in the future, and will probably chose not to spend their money on movies, since the MPAA were being dicks. Not to mention the horrible invasion of privacy and security issues.
  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:10PM (#21454327)
    Any university that installs that has a problem. University networks are constantly "played with" by students, so the IT department has to be on the ball. Any dumb enough to install this probably have had many student hacks already...
  • Never examined? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IBBoard ( 1128019 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:11PM (#21454343) Homepage
    Hang on, that's an interesting quote:

    ...the content of traffic is never examined or displayed...

    Given that the aim of the toolkit is supposedly to identify students who were downloading/sharing movie files...

    then how do they manage it without examining traffic? If the toolkit monitors BitTorrent (and other) ports then that would tell you who is using P2P, but not who is sharing movies. Maybe all that traffic is from students internally torrenting various Linux distros or their garage bands' MP3s.

    Thank goodness I never lived in University halls.
  • Re:Never examined? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pipatron ( 966506 ) <> on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:13PM (#21454361) Homepage

    then how do they manage it without examining traffic?

    Easy, they do what they do best. Lie.

  • by talon_262 ( 514764 ) <talon_262&yahoo,com> on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:18PM (#21454391)
    it's all about control and flexing their legal muscles to intimidate the rest of the public into towing the line. The MPAA is using this to gather more ammo in order to sue the people who are old enough to know what P2P is, who tend to use P2P apps to get music/movies/etc. on a regular basis, and who tend to have limited resources to fight back in court.
  • by shark72 ( 702619 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:25PM (#21454445)

    "This makes no sense. What are they going to accomplish by going after college kids, who really don't have that much disposable income? It seems counter-productive to me."

    they're trying to scare them into not pirating. The MPAA is scared to death that it will simply be ingrained in our culture (as it has in some other society's cultures) that piracy is perfectly OK.

    We'll see how this plays out. Back in the 80's I pirated lots of software, and I heard stories of other teenagers being caught for it. Now that I'm an adult, I'm no longe a pirate. The prosecution of software pirates in the 1980s didn't push me into a life of hoisting the Jolly Roger; on the contrary, once I got a job and learned more about how the real world works, I prefer to respect the copyright of others.

    I agree with you that many of the college kids who are pirates today will continue to be as they enter adulthood, but that percentage may not be as high as we might think.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:25PM (#21454447) Homepage

    This makes no sense. What are they going to accomplish by going after college kids, who really don't have that much disposable income? It seems counter-productive to me. You piss off a bunch of college kids, who can't afford to spend money on movies anyway, and who are going to earn money in the future, and will probably chose not to spend their money on movies, since the MPAA were being dicks. Not to mention the horrible invasion of privacy and security issues.

    They're not chasing the money. They're chasing the people who can be made examples of.

    They're not trying to find people who can pay the settlements -- they're looking for people they can establish the legal precedent and scare the crap out of people. In their mind, if they can stop it in the places where it happens most, and instill in people a great fear, then people will dutifully line up and buy tickets. This is all about the low-hanging fruit and those that can't easily defend themselves.

    The MPAA doesn't give a flying fuck about privacy and security, at least not yours -- they care about their products, their revenue stream, and their business model.

    You'll notice that just a few days ago we say a story of how an *AA sponsored bill is working its way through Congress which would require all universities to buy subscriptions for every student to Napster or risk losing federal support. In other words, they want to get paid for every single university student on the rationale that since they're all pirating, then the *AA's should get paid. Of course, they'll eventually want to extend to high schools, and then eventually to the rest of us.

    What they're looking for is laws to reinforce their monopoly, government agencies to police their copyrights, and federally assured revenue streams. They don't give a rats ass about customers or the risk of how they might be perceived. They're incapable/unwilling to look at the bigger picture. I can understand their point to an extent -- they simply cannot fathom how to 'monetize' all of these digital things, and they're fighting back the only way they know how.

    In their collective minds, if you can't afford to pay to see/hear/hum their products, you should simply do without. And, since they haven't been able to stop it, they're perfectly willing to shit in everyones shoes to get it stopped. If they can get government to do the heavy work, all the better for them.

  • by KaptajnKold ( 575207 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:28PM (#21454471) Homepage

    Scarcity is a necessary economic principle even for intellectual items, and without it, you won't see anyone interested in producing intellectual works.

    This of course is where we all disagree. I happen to believe - strongly - that you're wrong about this. Already we're seeing smart people (e.g. Madonna) distancing themselves from the labels and signing contracts with concert bookers instead. There will always be people interested in producing intellectual works, and there will always be people who will find a way to profit from it. With or without IP.

  • by purpledinoz ( 573045 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:30PM (#21454487)
    In theory I agree with you, but college students really don't care about such minor things such as copyright infringement, just like they don't care about breaking the law by puffing some weed. The MPAA isn't going to be teaching any lessons to college students.
  • Dear MPAA and RIAA:

    You've noticed that the number of students who think downloading movies and music via the internet is OK. Well, here's some news for you:

    Vox populi, vox Dei.
  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:37PM (#21454537) Homepage
    You're not thinking like a MPAA/RIAA executive. MPAA/RIAA executives don't think logically with a long-term outlook. They think in terms of control and monetization over the short term. Will Action A have repercussions 5 years from now? Who cares? I (hypothetical RIAA/MPAA executive) will have made enough money to retire by then anyway.

    Illegal downloads take music/movies out of their control. They won't admit this, but this issue is more important to them than the money. They don't care if the film downloaded was one that was otherwise sitting in the vault, available only on a dozen VHS copies left over from a network broadcast ten years ago. It's their property and if they want it to sit in the vault gathering dust, we the public should kiss their feet thanking them for that decision.

    As far as the money is concerned, they think that these actions will make pirating movies less attractive which will drive more people to buy/rent movies and/or watch movies in the theater. No, don't argue back that pirated copies versus legal copies that would have been bought isn't a 1:1 ratio. Stuff like "ratios" sounds ominously like math to these executives. The only math they care about is the rate at which money is flowing into their pockets.

    And speaking of "rate at which money is flowing", they feel entitled to constantly increasing profits year after year. After all, they've given us such quality works as Boy Band #34 and Third Sequel Of Generic Action Movie - Now With More Explosions. Why aren't we, the public, rushing out to the stores and shoving money into their pockets for this stuff? After all, Boy Band #7 did really well and they were basically the same guys as #34. Also, Generic Action Movie did pretty well in the box office. Why shouldn't the third sequel pull in even more money? (After all, the studio executives made sure the director added more explosions since they [the execs] knew that is what the public wanted.) Any appeals to logic about how spending money is tighter, how people have more options (online entertainment, video games, etc), or how quality is declining fall on deaf ears. After all, they got profit in the past and that means they should get bigger profit now. The only explanation has to be those dirty, rotten Internet pirates.

    Of course, all of this isn't meant to excuse downloading something without the copyright owner's permission. I still think that you shouldn't do that. At the same time, however, I don't think that the MPAA/RIAA are living in the real world with some of the actions they have taken (and some of the things they have tried to get done). At best, they've lost whatever moral high ground they would have had. At worst, they've become so criminal that people committing massive copyright infringement actually have a degree of moral high ground over them.

    In addition,
  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:45PM (#21454589) Homepage
    Not fascism []. That's not the right term.

    Properly, you're describing an oligopoly [] (or maybe an oligarchy []).

    The US hasn't gotten anywhere near fascism yet, and not even where the ideology would take them. Just because companies are tied closely to lawmakers, that doesn't make you fascists. People like to bandy that term about, but it's not applicable in this context.

  • by king-manic ( 409855 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:48PM (#21454605)

    Sometimes it's not about the money. Sometimes, it's about right and wrong. These are kids who should know better, and are committing lots of infringement (and worse than that, think it's OK). It's a self-reinforcing behavior to see lots of people around you pirating, but if instead you see people suffering the consequences for their illegal downloading, that activity will be deterred.
    I agree, Right and wrong must be considered. So you have a very minor wrong of college kids viewing content without paying for it, and a very major wrong of sacrificing peoples privacy and introducing a new potential source of security compromises. It's very clear this initiative must be rejected on the ground you specified.

    There is also a bit of thorn here. People who consume more will often consider it more important. There is a very strong correlation with "Frequent Copyright infringer" and "good customer". So the MPAA wants to reduce one without reducing the other. The RIAA completely botched it and didn't see the correlation. Their sales may hurt as people try to find alternatives. MPAA is slightly more fortunate that since movies are larger infringement is less casual and high quality products mroe difficult to produce (for music the difference between a $1500 recording and a $5 million recording isn't always obvious. But the difference between a $1500 movies and a $5 movie sis blatant).
  • by king-manic ( 409855 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:57PM (#21454687)

    We'll see how this plays out. Back in the 80's I pirated lots of software, and I heard stories of other teenagers being caught for it. Now that I'm an adult, I'm no longe a pirate. The prosecution of software pirates in the 1980s didn't push me into a life of hoisting the Jolly Roger; on the contrary, once I got a job and learned more about how the real world works, I prefer to respect the copyright of others.
    Piracy did wonders for Microsoft and likely photo, Maya, Lightwave, and many other programs. The cost of these programs puts them out of reach of kids, and kids are the ones who will pick up these essential skills fastest. So if you acclimatized children to your software you basically create future customers. A kid may find he loves 3d work and set his life on a course as a Maya guru. Anyone else will think it's insane spending $3,000 on a box and a CD. So it's int he best interest of people to ensure some version of their software is pirated or provide a non business free non-expiring demo but to also ensure businesses are prosecuted for use without paying. This way you get the benefit of more paying users.

    The thing with piracy is once you get enough money (first job) it's less attractive to spend 2h filtering through torrents to download a season 30 min TV show then it is to spend $80 on the box set. So Piracy may set up the appetites the same way it does for software and convenience and economics convert them to customers.
  • by Daimanta ( 1140543 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @12:59PM (#21454693) Journal
    leges sine moribus vanae
  • Naive much? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @01:01PM (#21454729) Journal

    You wonder why no large media companies (fixed it for you) have a report devoted to this, or even report on it much or do anything but rehash the RIAA/MPAA press statements and never ever examine it.

    Follow the money. You might as well ask, why do popular entertainment shows like Futurama show a dislike for things like napster and filesharing in general? Because they are the ones whose files are being shared!

    Geez, name a news company that isn't part of some huge media giant. You might start to realize that those who should report on the RIAA/MPAA are in fact its members. Geez, you might as well expect Dell to launch a survey, computers, do we really need them.

    What next, do you expect the tabaco industry to report on the dangers of smoking?

    Follow the money, who is the person you expect to report on something paid for. There was an issue a few years ago around Oprah when she said something bad about meat. That was just the advertisers complaining. Reporting on the RIAA/MPAA tactics, that will get you a letter direct from the head office "STOP IT".

    What next, Ruport Murdoch writing a story "Why it is a bad idea for one guy to own a lot of media"?

  • Re:Xubuntu (Score:5, Insightful)

    by someone300 ( 891284 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @01:14PM (#21454799) []

    They don't appear to have a link to the source. Quick! Someone send them a DMCA takedown! ;)
  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @01:21PM (#21454857)
    Sometimes, it's about right and wrong

    Couldn't agree more. The problem is that you seem confused about who is right. Your comment indicates a certain lack of awareness of the real societal issues (check out some of Ray Beckerman's [] writings if you want to get a handle on them.) Perhaps you work for a media company. Regardless, there's a lot more going on here that meets the eye.

    I would also recommend reading the relevant portions of the Constitution, the history of copyright and its true purpose, current copyright law (what I was able to understand of it as a non-lawyer is depressingly unbalanced), and most important of all discover what the Founders (Jefferson in particular) believed is the proper role of copyright in our society. Once you understand that, you will see just how damaged we have been by the recent divergence in purpose, from promoting "the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries" to "securing endless revenue streams for companies that have effectively stolen rights to the works whose authors they claim to represent." The power of Copyright has been conscripted by some particularly evil individuals, with the willing complicity of certain members of Congress. I presume you're an American: given our traditions of freedom and respect for individual rights I am amazed that you could take the position you have. Bankrupting college kids is not a solution: if you think it is you are in error, and are part of the problem.

    The problem here is not copyright infringement: it's media companies setting themselves up as private police forces, with unchecked surveillance and enforcement capabilities, and no due process. That goes very much against the grain of, well, pretty much every civilized nation on the planet. These are powers that should be reserved for legitimate government, not the private sector. And don't even start with "they'll have their day in court" or "if they're innocent they have nothing to worry about." Would that were true, but of the thousands of people sued by the RIAA, how many people have actually fought back? How many had the resources to even try to fight back? A tiny fraction: the rest settled out-of-court regardless of actual guilt, the RIAA having served as judge, jury and executioner, using "evidence" (and I use the term loosely) that is largely manufactured out of thin air. Furthermore, the RIAA (and the MPAA) is much like the Internal Revenue Service ... it's composed of a bunch of bad dudes, not the kind of people you want having any power over you whatsoever. The facts are thus: the media companies and their "trade organizations" have behaved very irresponsibly all down the line, and have hurt a lot of people. They absolutely should not be granted one iota more power. If anything they need to have their wings clipped. Period. END OF STATEMENT.

    Furthermore, you seem to have forgotten that this is supposed to be a nation by, of and for The People. If we, as a nation, have decided that extended copyright and strict enforcement is not something we need or want then nobody, certainly not a bunch of mere copyright holders who themselves have created nothing have any moral high ground here whatsoever. It's a blind, unfounded assumption on your part that we need to get tough on copyright infringement, indeed that we need such extreme laws in the first place. I would argue that we never have, and do not now.

    What we have here is a classic example of unenlightened capitalism, the kind of no-holds-barred screw-everyone-but-ourselves school of business management that does nothing but enrich a few at the expense of everyone else, causing a fair amount of collateral damage in the process. Worse yet, our entertainment industry (which at the present time is composed largely of foreign-owned corpor
  • Re:Naive much? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by king-manic ( 409855 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @01:34PM (#21454963)

    Certainly possible. However, as a guy who spent over two decades producing content for media companies (although back in my day we used to call it writing for the newspaper) I never, ever had anybody stop me from writing something. Heck, I rarely had anybody telling me what to cover, since as the designated expert, I was the guy telling my bosses what was important. But do go on...
    The problem isn't so much blatant censorship int hat fashion it's more like this: Neo-con journalists tend to write Neo-con articles. Neo-Con editors tend to hire Neo-con journalists. Neo-con paper owners tend to hire Neo-Con editors. Thus The guy at the top influences the content being output through editorial/selective means. A story of "Man dies after police taser him" can be spun as "Belligerent suspect dies after struggle with police" or "Unarmed immigrant murdered by police."

    This tyep of spin is true for Marxists, Conservatives, Liberals, Moderates etc...

    It's not a huge problem if there is a diversity of media but major media is held by very few parties.
  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @01:41PM (#21455007) Journal
    Right or wrong, the distribution model these companies are using is dead in the water. Attacking their consumer base, even if that consumer base is acting badly, is only going to hasten their demise. From the very beginning they have refused to adapt, demanding the government and the courts keep an outmoded business model going. The technology is such that no matter what they do, they can never stop it.

    Oh, and before we start moaning about poor old RIAA and the MPAA, let's remember that it's RIAA's members who spent decades ripping off artists (go look up Bo Diddley and payola sometime to see just how vile and repugnant the record companies have been), and the MPAA whose members have accounting practices that should lead just about every Hollywood producer and studio head being sent to jail. These guys are crooks themselves, and so far as I'm concerned, when two groups of crooks get into a turf war, I say let 'em fight it out without any government or court involvement. At the very least, the government should be demanding that RIAA immediately start paying with interest to all those artists they fucked out of royalties for years, and the MPAA go back two decades and audit their collective books on movie profits, and pay, with interest, all the taxes they scammed and pay back all the investors they screwed. Then, and only then, should anyone even give these crooks the time of day.

    As to the artists, well, there are other ways of doing things. As I said a day ago, Shakespeare and his theater company did quite well without the benefit of copyright laws.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2007 @01:47PM (#21455045)
    In the 80's i also pirated lots of software. Nowadays i still download pirated software.

    The difference is that nowadays, if i actually continue to use the software i download beyond testing it, I'll buy it, even if the CD will forever sit in a shelve at my place never to be used.

    The only reason i don't outright buy the software (mostly games) and skip the download, is that I've been burned once too many when i bought over-hyped software that turned out to be one big, steamy pile of bug-ridden shit.

    With music, I've stopped buying CDs when the first "copy protected" CDs started coming out: I'm not interested in a CD which i cannot rip into MP3s for playing in my MP3 player and i don't have the time to go check which CDs are copy protected and which are not, so i simple stopped buying CDs altogether. I still download MP3s once in a while ... wouldn't mind buying the tracks as MP3, but since i the record companies don't seem to be interested in selling me the MP3s, i can't buy them.
  • Even If (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @01:48PM (#21455051)

    Even if there is a firewall at the perimeter of the school network, all of the students are inside of it!

  • by db32 ( 862117 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @02:38PM (#21455473) Journal
    He was right, but it is irrelevant. In digital "objects" scarcity is artificial. This assanine idea that noone will produce is "economic thinking" coupled with poor judgement. TRUE economic thinking would show the supply/demand curve shift, and the price adjust accordingly and there will still be a huge supply of artists because the cost of entry has become so insanely low. So the little popstar boyband or rockstar lifestyle of 16 cars, 5 hookers, and all the drugs you can shoot, snort, or smoke dies. Oh boo freaking hoo. You mean artists might only make enough to make a middle class lifestyle off of their work? Oh the agony, the horror, the defeat... Soldiers, policemen, firefighters, etc all risk their damned lives on a day to day basis and don't get megamillions, why should some coke snorting junkie that can't take care of her kids get more?

    So I agree with you, but the GP is absolutely correct about scarcity. The "industry" crews want to enforce artifical scarcity to drive prices up, the real world wants normal scarcity that deals with the fact that not everyone likes all types of music, nor will everyone become a musician. The this market WILL sort itself out when unburdened from so much silly regulation. The problem is, after the market balances, it will be closer to perfect competition rather than the monopolistic competition we have today, and the fat bastards in big offices and their greasy lawyers don't like that.

    Remember kids...the RIAA has struck a deal so they get paid royalties for music they don't own the copyright to. They have been beating the drums of war and lobbying like crazy to make sure THEY are the only method of distribution. If you think this has much to do with the consumer you are deluded...this has everything to do with making sure no one can compete with them.
  • by skeeto ( 1138903 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @04:38PM (#21456595)

    These are kids who should know better, and are committing lots of infringement (and worse than that, think it's OK).

    Is copyright infringement wrong? Along the same lines: is drinking alcohol on the day before your 21st birthday wrong? Assuming you say yes, why are these wrong? Is the act of breaking a law wrong? What happens when there are two contradicting laws?

    Legal/illegal and right/wrong are two very different beasts that have little to do with each other. If copyright infringement is wrong, then sharing with your neighbor must be wrong too.

  • by C0rinthian ( 770164 ) on Friday November 23, 2007 @06:00PM (#21457295)
    Okay, lets get something straight: Just because you didn't plan to buy something doesn't mean you can get it by other means. It's not a justification. The "It doesn't matter because I wasn't going to buy it anyway" line is total bullshit.

    Notice I'm not saying "DONT PIRATE" or anything, as frankly I don't care. But at least stop deluding yourself with half-assed justifications.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.