The View From The Outside: Reactions to Stanford’s Reconnection Fee

It’s instructive to step outside the world of higher education to see how we’re viewed from the outside. Sometimes it’s enlightening and sometimes it’s just entertaining.  But it’s always important for us to know how those outside higher education (potential students, alumni, parents, legislators, community members, etc.) view us and our actions.

Stanford University has instituted a re-connection fee for students who are the target of a DMCA notice. In general, the idea of charging a reconnection fee after a student has violated a policy is not new; over 2 years ago, a handful of respondents (8%) to the 2005 ResNet Survey (pdf file of the results of Section 6 of the survey) indicated they charged such a fee. Ray Beckerman received a copy of the notice that Stanford sent to its students and posted it in his blog under the heading “Stanford Adopts Policy: Assume RIAA is Right.” Slashdot also posted a link to the notice but under the slightly more innocuous title “Stanford To Charge Reconnect Fee For DMCA Notices.” The Chronicle of Higher Education allowed Stanford to respond in their story on the new policy. The Chronicle noted that “Stanford would give students ample opportunity to contest infringement notices and would waive the fines for students who received ‘problematic’ complaints.” Lauren Schoenthaler, a lawyer for Stanford, said that they are “not out there trying to add insult to injury by charging people who receive bogus complaints.”

It’s worth reading through the comments in Ray’s blog posting and the Slashdot story. Yes, the title for Ray’s posting is misleading and inaccurate. Yes, many or most of the comments are off-base, knee-jerk, and ignorant of many of the basic facts of this specific situation and the general situation. At the end of the day, however, that’s how people are reacting and what they are thinking and it’s vitally important that we understand and keep abreast of those reactions and thoughts.

  • http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com Ray Beckerman

    There is nothing whatsoever “misleading and inaccurate” about my blog posting, http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com/2007/05/stanford-adopts-policy-assume-riaa-is.html It was based strictly upon the notice which Stanford sent to its students which described Stanford’s policy as follows:

    ************************************************************************
    1st DMCA Complaint: The Information Security Office will forward a copy of the
    complaint to the student, with an email instructing the student to
    remove copyrighted content and respond to the Information
    Security Office. A student has 48 hours to respond to the
    Information Security Office (ISO) and attend to the DMCA
    complaint. If the student addresses the DMCA complaint within
    that time, there will be no disconnection, and no reconnection
    fee. But if the student does not respond within 48 hours, the
    student will be disconnected from the network. Once the DMCA
    complaint has been addressed, the student will be charged $100
    to be reconnected to the Stanford network.
    2nd DMCA Complaint: The Information Security Office will forward a copy of the
    complaint to the student and to the student’s Residence Dean.
    The student will be disconnected immediately from the network.
    Once the DMCA complaint has been addressed, the student will
    be charged $500 to be reconnected to the Stanford network.
    3rd DMCA Complaint: The Information Security Office will forward a copy of the
    complaint to the student. The student will be disconnected
    immediately from the network. Network privileges will be
    terminated. The Information Security Office will file a
    complaint with Judicial Affairs for disciplinary action. New
    network privileges may be granted at Stanford’s discretion upon
    the student agreeing to indemnify Stanford against any further
    copyright violations, and paying up to $1000 to establish new
    privileges.

    ****************************************************************
    As you can see, there is nothing in that policy that discusses the new material which you are claiming is in fact Stanford’s policy:
    *******************************************************************
    “Stanford would give students ample opportunity to contest infringement notices and would waive the fines for students who received ‘problematic’ complaints.” Lauren Schoenthaler, a lawyer for Stanford, said that they are “not out there trying to add insult to injury by charging people who receive bogus complaints.”
    ***************************************************************************
    If you and/or Stanford are saying that Stanford’s policy is different than what was described in the notice, it was the notice itself that was “misleading and inaccurate”.

    I am pleased to learn that Stanford either (a) did not mean what it said, or (b) has changed its mind, upon careful reflection.

    Best regards,
    Ray

    http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com

  • Kevin Guidry

    Ray, have you read the Chronicle article that was just released today? If not, I’d be happy to forward a copy to you.

    I stand by the assertion that the title to your brief blog posting was a bit over the top. I agree with you that the policy as initially written and released can definitely be tweaked and adjusted to a significant degree to address due process and similar concepts. But I don’t read “we assume the RIAA is right” in the published policy nor do I believe that the good people at Stanford would charge (financially, legally, or judicially) a student who can provide some evidence that the takedown notice is somehow wrong.

    I do agree with you that the basic principle of “prove you’re innocent” sucks and is contradictory to our legal and ethical foundations and practices. But I lay the blame for that squarely at the feet of congress and those who pressured them to pass the DMCA. Like many, those of us in the business of running residential computer networks are caught in the middle. Keep fighting the good fight Ray and maybe we can figure out a way out of this mess!

  • http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com Ray Beckerman

    Dear Kevin

    Thank you for your kind words.

    But Stanford is in a much better position to “fight the good fight” than (a) I or (b) the people I represent.

    Stanford should follow the suggestions in my Open Letter to make sure that its students due process rights are protected.

    Just today I spoke to a college student (at another well respected institution) whose internet access was shut down by the school’s IT office in response to an RIAA letter. She met with them, explained to them that she doesn’t even have a P2P file sharing program. They said it’s her responsibility to deal with the RIAA, not theirs — even though they would be the people improperly identifying her as a copyright infringer in the first place.

    It’s wrong. The colleges should listen to Professor Nesson.

  • http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com Ray Beckerman

    By the way I can’t read the Chronicle article because it’s ‘subscriber only’ (how’s that for archaic?).

  • Kevin Guidry

    I e-mailed you a copy of the article, Ray (they at least us do that!).

    I agree that many of us are doing a poor job of protecting students’ due process rights (legal and moral). From my perspective, part of it is that some of these decisions have been made by or left to IT professionals who are ill-equipped to deal with legal matters. There also appears to still be some lingering wishful thinking that maybe if we just bonk the students as they are reported then this whole issue will just go away.

    I’m pretty pessimistic about this whole issue right now. As much as I personally despise the RIAA for what they have done and are doing, too often we in higher education have shot ourselves in the foot or left our students hanging. All the while, Congress continues to grow angrier and angrier. The Chronicle’s Wired blog just reported that yet another congressional committee is going to hold a hearing related to this matter. Wishing the issue hasn’t worked; in fact, it’s been harmful to our cause.

  • http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com Ray Beckerman

    Well I’m optimistic because the judges are starting to get wise to what’s going on, more and more lawyers are jumping into the fray, and more and more RIAA victims are deciding to fight back.

    I was pleased to see this lawyer in Athens, Ohio, put Ohio University’s feet to the fire on protecting the rule of law.

    I hope Stanford will be represented at this conference at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center, especially this working group:

    UNIVERSITY and the RIAA
    Suits brought against members of University by the RIAA bring up issues revolving around the role and identity of University and copyright. Universities are being asked to absorb financial and non-monetary costs of the record companies’ enforcement. Is this enforcement also compromising student privacy? Does this limit access to genuine educational resources? How do we provide opportunities for new creative expression through digital mediums?
    Facilitator: Wendy Seltzer (Berkman Fellow), Doc Searls (Berkman Fellow), Lewis Hyde (Berkman Fellow)
    Location: Pound Hall Room 102

    Best regards,
    Ray

  • Kevin Guidry

    Thanks for giving me some hope. I hope that lawyers are starting to make progress (I follow your site regularly but it’s a bit difficult for a non-lawyer to follow all of the details and the regular legal back-and-forth and accurately judge the progress of the cases) and I hope that additional lawyers are starting to take action, particularly in and around those institutions without law schools or with law schools whose students and faculty are unwilling to get involved.

    Instead of or in addition to hoping that Stanford will attend or be represented at that particular event, I hope that university administrators and general counsel will be there or at least follow the developments. Lawyers play a key role in this issue but there are many others playing key roles in this issue, including judicial coordinators, network administrators, and ResNet managers who are the ones actually interacting with the students (passing on the takedown notices, giving or failing to give advice, etc.). Just as I’ve often told people that “this is not a ResNet issue,” “this is not the lawyers’ issue.” It’s a much larger challenge with legal, social, technical, and cultural implications and effects.

  • http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com Ray Beckerman

    You are absolutely right.

  • http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com Ray Beckerman

    I mean about this part:

    I hope that university administrators and general counsel will be there or at least follow the developments. Lawyers play a key role in this issue but there are many others playing key roles in this issue, including judicial coordinators, network administrators, and ResNet managers who are the ones actually interacting with the students (passing on the takedown notices, giving or failing to give advice, etc.). Just as I’ve often told people that “this is not a ResNet issue,” “this is not the lawyers’ issue.” It’s a much larger challenge with legal, social, technical, and cultural implications and effects.

    Have a great Memorial Day weekend.