January 09, 2008

The AUP, Peer–to–Peer Filesharing and You

So…

Got a flyer thing under my door today from the lovely people over at IT Services. Takes the form of a FAQ all about Peer to Peer applications, and how you’re not allowed to use them on campus. Not particularly notable, I though: I don’t run torrents or Limewire or the like on campus anyway, being as I was already aware, of course, of the university’s general dislike of such things (Plus I think they throttled the use of torrents anyway, so you could only run them at rubbish speeds)

What did catch my attention, however, was one question:

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Can I use Video On Demand?

BBS’s iPlayer, Channel 4’s 4OD and Sky’s Anytime Internet all use a version of Kontiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kontiki) which uses P”P technology and therefore uses up bandwidth and is against the AUP. For further advice you should call the ResNet Helpdesk (024 765) 75000.

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The arguments presented in the leaflet, albeit briefly, are as follows:

1) They gobble bandwidth, which is unfair on other university users. I can’t argue the core point here – filesharing uses bandwidth, host uploading and downloading. Despite my overall nerdiness (check out the title of my blog) I’m not a genius at all things computers, but I’d have thought that it would be possible to set download/upload rate limits on a per user basis, making this argument moot as no-one can exceed their allowance/set rate/whatever. In fact, I had vaguely thought this was already the case. Am I wrong? I’m sure someone who understands these things better can tell me why such an approach wouldn’t work for this case in particular.

2) Peer to peer applications can come loaded with spyware and can be used to spread viruses. Not a particularly impressive argument, as both things are true of virtually any kind of software you care to name that has anything remotely to do with the internet.

3) Copyright infringement. This is always the contentious one, of course. The leaflet ducks this point by mentioning it almost off handedly in the next-to-last sentence, which strikes me as slightly disingenuous. Then again, there’s a time and a place for that sort of thing.

There’s nothing inherently copyright infringing about peer-to-peer filesharing of course – it depends on the nature of the files shared. But only a fool would claim that a significant proportion of peer-to-peer filesharing isn’t based on the trafficking of copyright infringing files. So I can understand, to some extent, the university taking a hard-line stance on this when it comes to torrents and other more general filesharing apps.

But how does this argument work for things like 4OD and BBC iPlayer, which by definition aren’t infringing copyrights (and, at least I hope, aren’t installing spyware either)?

This presumably leaves only the bandwidth argument against it, which just brings me back to my wonderings about throttling such things on a per-user basis…. possible, or not?

Also, does anyone know if streaming stuff off the iPlayer website (as opposed to downloading stuff to watch later using BBC iPlayer’s application makes use of peer-to-peer distribution? Or is that also verboten? How about the stream function on the Channel 4 On Demand application (since obviously the downloading element is forbidden, but how about the streaming part)?

I confess I simply don’t know enough about how these things work to tell. Even then I wonder if IT services would be able to tell the difference from their end. If the only way to be safe from being disconnected is to uninstall 4OD altogether (and, further, not even go to the iPlayer website) well, then, that sucks. But I’m in no position to do anything about it other than obey, of course.

Ho hum. Your thoughts, from whatever perspective, are as always appreciated.


- 5 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Mathew Mannion

    4OD/iPlayer/Sky Anytime use Kontiki (as mentioned). Kontiki is basically spyware – it shares all of the TV you download via a Bittorrent-style service. Even having the program itself closed doesn’t stop this, Kontiki will start itself whenever you start your computer and is notoriously difficult to get rid of. Downloading stuff with the BBC iPlayer brings exactly the same technological problems as using Bittorrent.

    The iPlayer website uses Flash and does not share any outgoing content, so you’re fine with that – it’s just the same as watching Youtube.

    (Of course, I’m not part of the relevant team in IT Services so I don’t know anything about this, but that is my understanding of things)

    09 Jan 2008, 11:50

  2. Hmm.

    Thanks for the heads-up on that, Mat. It’s good to know that the YouTube style streaming from the iPlayer site, at least, seems to be safe.

    09 Jan 2008, 11:57

  3. Nick F

    As far as I know Kontiki isn’t spyware, because it doesn’t spy. It’s not an especially nice program though – although I imagine that’s at least in part due to how it’s integrated into the various download services. What’s worse in my opinion is that when I installed iPlayer / 4OD it wasn’t obvious that they even used P2P. I’m sure this could lead to all kinds of nasty situations such as users of cheap broadband services using their bandwidth limits unknowingly, or in this case using P2P software on a network where it isn’t allowed. I guess that’s part of the reason for the leaflet.

    With regard to the per-user limits, I think the problem there is that there’d be nowhere near enough bandwidth to give each individual user a decent speed – you only get a decent speed because most people aren’t using it (constantly) most of the time.

    09 Jan 2008, 15:02

  4. “With regard to the per-user limits, I think the problem there is that there’d be nowhere near enough bandwidth to give each individual user a decent speed – you only get a decent speed because most people aren’t using it (constantly) most of the time.”

    Presumably there’s a sort of total speed for the ResNet internet overall – couldn’t that just be divided equally between whatever number of users are actually online at the time? or something?

    I dunno, it sounds way easier in my head than I guess it actually is in reality.

    09 Jan 2008, 22:24

  5. Nick F

    But with programs like 4OD which run in the background, anyone with their PC switched on would be online and sending traffic. It basically just increases people’s utilisation of the network, so even if you share equally between everyone sending traffic, there probably still isn’t enough bandwidth to go around (compare this with the non P2P scenario where most people only send small amounts of traffic to view web pages, and only when they’re sat at their computer). ISPs were moaning to the BBC about iPlayer a little while ago for pretty much the same reason.

    11 Jan 2008, 11:48


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