Stanford has issued a new DMCA policy which requires students to pay an escalating reconnect fee. Although couched in light of recent RIAA actions, the policy seems to apply to all DMCA notices. Apparently after a DMCA notice is received, the University sends the notice to the student who has 48 hours to respond. Failure to respond results in being disconnected from the network. The student must pay $100 to be reconnected. A second notice results in immediate disconnection and a $500 reconnect fee. A third notice results in termination from the Network and the commencement of an action at the University’s Judicial Affairs office. Reconnection is then at the University’s discretion and requires that the student pay $1000 and agree to indemnify the University against further copyright claims.
First, 48 hours is very little time to respond to an email. Yes I said it; that is not much time. Students may not use their university email except for university business. And even if one said that students are required to check university email (not an entirely unreasonable policy), 48 hours to respond to the first cease and desist notice seems to depart from what I recall about these interactions. Unless something has changed, I remember giving two weeks to respond to the first letter. So perhaps trimming three days for email is fair given instant delivery, but 48 hours is extreme. I can imagine that during finals a student could take the Paper Chase approach and unplug from distractions.
Second, and perhaps more important, the University seems to be deferring to the copyright holders way too much with this policy. Yes the University should protect itself, and yes copyright holders have interests. But given the murky nature of copyright claims, having such a short time for the student to respond stacks the deck a bit. To be fair, it is not clear how accurate the DMCA notices are regarding what material is allegedly being violated. Nor is it clear what Stanford does when a student responds. Is there a counter-notification process? Does Stanford accept the student’s defense? Does Stanford search the student’s computer or ask for some sort of discovery about the files in question? (there are probably privacy issues here)? Maybe the school accepts the defense and allows the student to remain connected. Still does that mean a second (possibly false claim) will still result in disconnection and a $500 reconnect fee or is the claim tally reset?
Given how vital a connection to the Internet is for a student, the aggressive posture of copyright enforcers, and the difficulty in evaluating some of these claims (again some students are probably violating the law but not all DMCA notices will be for violations), the policy should probably be modified to provide better time for students to respond and more clear procedures for resetting the students status if the DMCA claim is unwarranted.
(hat tip: Slashdot)