University IT departments baffled by sudden, inexplicable increase

Observers are reporting a large increase in the number of DMCA copyright notices sent to colleges by the RIAA, and institutions like Indiana University are reporting a “20-fold increase” – sometimes as many as 80 per day.

University administrators note that there has not been a recorded increase in file-sharing activity, and – unlike in the past – many of the RIAA’s notices don’t have any corresponding activity in university traffic logs.

“We are not sure [whether] what we have is an allegation of copyright infringement or an allegation of possible future illegal behavior,” said IU associate vice president of IT Mark Bruhn. “The whole thing is very concerning, to be frank. We don't know why they are doing this and I'm not sure they know what they are doing.”

The Chronicle for Higher Education reports similar increases from George Washington University, which is now seeing over 120 notices per week, up from the usual “five to 10.” Wired’s Threat Level confirmed a surge with the University of Chicago.

The RIAA, when questioned about the increase of letters and Indiana University’s findings regarding their accuracy, said there were no changes in its procedures. “We are always making an effort to more effectively and efficiently detect infringing activity on the Internet, as we are continuously  looking for ways to improve our ability to find and act on incidences of theft online. Having said that, there's been no change,” said RIAA spokeswoman Liz Kennedy. Follow-up inquiries, sent by Wired were not returned.

Some think the RIAA’s actions may be politically motivated: “Public universities are in a unique position since the industry puts pressure on us through state legislatures to try to impose what are widely considered to be draconian content monitoring measures and turn us into tech police forces in support of a specific industry,” said University of California at Berkeley CIO Shel Waggener.

The content industry is pushing initiatives that compel public schools to action after a threshold volume of notices is met, said Luker. Such legislation is currently working its way through a number of states, including Illinois and Tennessee.

“The number of DMCA notices that are sent to a university vary wildly from one day to the next, and no one, including the federal government knows how they send them out or what criteria they use,” said Luker. “It is not reasonable in any way to use those counts as a basis for government actions.”

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