Policing the Network: Using dpi for Copyright Enforcement

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Despite the efforts of the higher education community, the final version of the HEOA reauthorization requires a college or university to develop a plan to combat digital copyright infringement, including the use of one or more “technology-based deterrents”.23 The regulations outline four specific types of technical deterrents: i) Bandwidth shaping ii) Traffic monitoring iii) Accepting and responding to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices and iv) Commercial products designed to reduce or block illegal file sharing.24 Schools who fail to comply with these provisions risk incurring steep fines and losing federal funding for students (Wada 2008). The HEOA was passed July 31, 2008 and signed into law on August 14 of that year.
DPI Vendors Develop HEOA Compliant Solutions

The result of this mandate has been a widespread adoption of technological solutions by higher education institutions to specifically monitor P2P file-sharing activity on campuses, including in dorm areas, where such activity most often occurs. In fact, a niche market of DPI-based solutions has developed, with vendors designing and marketing packages specifically to colleges and universities. In October 2010, for example, Procera released PacketLogic Smart Campus, a solution with DPI capabilities that the company bills as a turnkey network and traffic management solution specifically for higher education institutions.25 The product was first demonstrated at the Educause 2010 conference. Audible Magic CopySense is another DPI-based solution which has become fairly popular with colleges and universities. Audible Magic positions CopySense as a solution that helps institutions comply with the HEOA and has a built-in graduated response system.26

Heterogeneous Implementation of HEOA-Compliant Plans

On May 18, 2011 Educause held a webinar and online discussion with members of the legal counsel and IT departments from universities around the country. The record shows great variance in both the policies used to address illegal P2P file sharing and the scope of implementation (A P2P, DMCA, & HEOA FAQ 2011). Several key findings about the adoption of HEOA requirements emerged from this dialogue. Colleges and universities have increasingly been receiving pre-litigation settlement letters attached to DMCA notices. This has been deemed as a deceptive effort on the part of copyright holders to easily get money from suspected infringers. Universities are not required by law to forward these letters to their students. The general sentiment of higher education administration is that while “technology-based deterrents” are required, this provision is subject to substantial interpretation. For instance, responding to DMCA notices falls under this category and would not require a school to purchase additional technical solutions. Universities are given a significant amount of autonomy with regards to the design of their plans and it is up to each school to review its plan on a regular basis for effectiveness.

Heidi Wachs, Director of IT Policy and Privacy Officer at Georgetown University advised other universities that they should be cautious of implementing content filtering tools too broadly, as this could cause them to lose their safe harbor protections. “The use of content filters inverts the DMCA’s burden on rights holders and shifts it to ISPs” (Storch and Wachs 2011). Joseph Storch, Associate Counsel at the State University of New York concurred: “Active monitoring is not only not required by the HEOA, but it may make you lose your safe harbor – be very, very careful before you implement one of those systems” (A P2P, DMCA, & HEOA FAQ 2011).

Individual Example: Syracuse University

The costs of responding to DMCA notices and the legal risks to students and the university led Syracuse University’s Information Technology and Services department to purchase a pair of Palo Alto PA-4060 firewalls recently. With few exceptions, the University blocks all P2P protocols within campus borders. The Palo Alto firewalls were chosen because of their packet-shaping and application inspection capabilities. They detect and block most known P2P protocols. Note that the system targets the use of P2P applications and does not detect copyrighted files per se. It is a pre-emptive measure that indiscriminately blocks certain applications.

Overall, the implementation of these firewalls has dramatically reduced the number of DMCA notices received by the University. The importance of these technological measures becomes apparent in considering a recent hardware failure of one of the two Palo Alto firewalls in October 2010. In one week the Director of Information Security at Syracuse University suddenly received between 30-40 DMCA notices.27 When the firewalls are fully functioning, the number of DMCA notices per week is basically zero.
Responding to a DMCA notice can be arduous. When a DMCA notice is received, the Director of Information Security must look through the University’s web logs to find the student ID matching the IP address and time stamp of the notification. Once this information is found, the University policy follows a graduated response approach with the following steps:

  • Step 1: The machine of the alleged copyright infringer is quarantined and he/she is notified that they may be involved in illegal activity. They are directed to read SU’s Computing and Electronic Communications policy. When they respond their computer is turned back on.

  • Step 2: The student must meet with the Director of Information Security for counseling.

  • Step 3: The machine is quarantined from the network and the infringer, if a student, is referred to an upper level Dean or another member of upper level administration for further disciplinary action.

In the case of SU, only one case has ever progressed to Step 2, and none have reached the third stage. Recognizing the significant amount of information that technological measures such as DPI can collect, colleges and universities claim that they go to great lengths to ensure that personal information of individuals/alleged infringers are never disclosed to copyright holders directly. In this respect, there is primarily only a one-way dialogue between copyright holders and higher education institutions.

The Syracuse University IT department is now considering using the Palo Alto firewalls for other purposes. They may replace access control lists (ACLs), a way of blocking common security threats that involves costly and mistake-prone command line input, with the Palo Alto firewalls. The firewall might also be configured to start investigating web traffic for malware. In both cases, however, they are very concerned about over-blocking.
Analysis and Conclusion

Attempts to apply DPI to copyright enforcement have generated extensive public policy debate. In both Europe and America, the prospect of its use has mobilized social and economic interest groups around Internet governance issues and resulted in some institutional change. The most far-reaching debate took place in Europe, where the possibility of using DPI as part of a mandatory graduated response system applicable to all ISPs was, for a time, a live option. The stronger US laws immunizing ISPs seem to have kept the American debate confined to the education sector.

The surveillance potential of DPI technology facilitated a major reassessment of two of the three key Internet governance principles cited in the introduction: intermediary immunity and the confidentiality of communications. The knowledge among well-resourced actors that DPI was an option destabilized earlier policy equilibriums. It created a fork in the road, where the established principles had to be reaffirmed, or revised, or discarded. The departure from the end to end principle that DPI seems to enable, on the other hand, was not a strongly contested issue in this case.
On the whole, attempts to apply DPI to copyright policing did not realize the more radically disruptive potential of the technology. A radical implementation would make the Internet access network itself responsible for surveillance, detection, notification and enforcement. Copyright holders did not succeed in getting a true “inside the network” implementation of DPI, except in some universities. Their vision of how the new technical capability could be used foundered in the face of challenges based on user and ISP resistance. As predicted, network operators in both Europe and the U.S. strongly opposed adopting the technology to benefit a third party (copyright holders). Both commercial ISPs and university networks rejected the imposition of copyright policing – even when both were willing to adopt DPI for other reasons that directly served their own interests. The significance of public interest groups in the US and Europe should also be acknowledged. They successfully campaigned against the use of DPI and graduated response, invoking privacy and the rights to Internet access, free expression and due process.
In both cases there were attempts to form private stakeholder discussion groups to arrive at a negotiated resolution. In both cases they failed. When implementation of a new technology involves a zero sum game over the distribution of costs and benefits, such negotiations are unlikely to succeed. Although the UK and France did generate MoUs between ISPs and rights holders, agreements were mediated and directed by governments. In both cases the end result was hard legislation anyway (the HADOPI law and UK Digital Economy Act). The European Stakeholder Dialogue Group produced no results whatsoever, and the American JCHEEC, while thoroughly educating the parties about the technical options and the views and needs of the other parties, produced modest modifications of practice. And those results did not prevent later recriminations and a resort to legislation by the copyright interests.
While falling short of a more disruptive adaptation to DPI, one can see incremental change in these cases that could, when combined with developments in other DPI use cases, lay the groundwork for more transformative outcomes. Commercial ISPs already widely use DPI for intrusion detection and prevention, and often use it to limit or block P2P file-sharing for bandwidth conservation. Similarly, even as they resist impositions, universities may choose to block file-sharing protocols to conserve bandwidth or minimize the transaction costs associated with responding to DMCA notice and takedown requirements. A combination of negotiations and legislative pressure did succeed in getting many universities to adopt graduated response policies and educational programs, and sometimes even DPI-based technical measures. Legislation that threatened higher education funding sources helped to create an incentive structure that pushed many universities into further use of DPI.
Despite the political resistance and the limitations placed on its use, DPI is spreading. But so far it is deployed more as a tool of network operators’ policy than as a direct tool of public policy. As such, the deployments of DPI reflect the individualized concerns, interests and constraints of the network operators. In the copyright arena, law and public policy set the parameters of ISP responsibilities, such as notice and takedown requirements. But for the most part, the operators still decide how DPI fits into those requirements, if at all. However, the more responsibility for regulation and control of internet use that is placed upon ISPs, the stronger their incentives to adopt some kind of user surveillance. Furthermore, once it is installed DPI can absorb and integrate some additional functions beyond the ones that led to its initial installation.


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26 Audible Magic, “Audible magic solutions- colleges and universities”, http://audiblemagic.com/solutions-colleges.php

27 Interview with Chris Croad, Director of Information Security, Syracuse University, 23 February 2011.

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