Bristol University Bans WiFi Access of  Student
Chicken Run

BBC Newsbeat reported that a UK teenager named Gianna Mulville-Zanetta, a first-year social policy student at Bristol University was denied access to university’s Wi-Fi. She downloaded an illegal copy of Chicken Run, a 2000 animated comedy-drama film. Gianna shared with BBC that she’s not the lone case of using BitTorrent to download copyrighted content. Another student at the university got blocked for downloading Shrek, a 2001 American computer-animated fantasy comedy film.

The Wi-Fi Ban

The ban on Gianna was for 20 days as she spoke to BBC that “I got an email the day after I watched it on Netflix with my friend saying I had been removed from Eduroam – which is our wi-fi”.

It took her several hours to download the film which led her to watch a legal version instead. However, rights holder, or rather an agency (which some call as ‘copyright trolls) on behalf of the copyright holders was quick to report her activity and to get her restricted by the university’s IT department. Some of you might be surprised for Bristol University to act in a way it did. However, universities enforce serious consequences on naughty students for committing piracy using their Wi-Fi networks. It gets them in serious trouble as copyright trolls are quick to hurl legal threats. And, it’s also not unusual for rights holders to collect damages for the breaches.

Was it Unusual?

It is not unusual for universities to take piracy and copyright infringement notices seriously. In 2015, The University of Calgary (The U of C) in Canada banned BitTorrent usage on three of its Wi-Fi networks i.e. AirUC-Secure, AirUC-Guest and RezNet Wi-Fi networks. The university claimed that infringement notices dropped by 90% during first eight days after levying the BotTorrent ban. That’s a remarkable reduction in alleged infringement notices.

However, the university will not impose an outright ban on the use of BitTorrent protocol.

Examples of Universities Taking Strict Measures

And, it’s the same in some other countries. “Students at the University of NSW, Australia can be fined up to $1000 for downloading television shows and movies that infringe copyright using the institution’s free Wi-Fi network”, reported Ben Grubb of The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). While Bristol University’s Gianna had downloaded only Chicken Run, there are students who may abuse university’s free Wi-Fi to the extent that it rocks the boat.

One student was said to have downloaded 7 gigabytes of copyright infringing material in a single day”, reported SMH. That’s the kind of reckless behavior reported across Commonwealth states that might compel universities in the UK to impose tougher restrictions on the use of their Wi-Fi networks to access BitTorrent protocol.

The Workaround

For the naughty ones, there’s this workaround called VPN, a virtual private network that lets a user bypass the server of your ISP (internet service provider). It effectively hides your real IP and encrypts your data you send/receive using the service. We’ve recommended using VPN to secure your online privacy, though there is a bad use of the service as well which may be avoided. This may include habitually downloading pirated or copyrighted content.

Takeaway

As government agencies increasingly track your online activities, and hackers try to infect your systems with ransomware or common viruses, the use of VPNs can come in handy. Had Gianna used it for the naughty moment she wanted to see that Netflix film, things would not have gone bad for her.

For now, enjoy the official trailer of Chicken Run.

Shargeel is an internet privacy expert and information technology enthusiast.

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