Permission to torrent granted for academic purposes
Over the summer the IT services at StFX sent out notices that all torrent traffic on their network would be blocked going forward, unless an application was filled out requesting access for work or academic related uses. While the notice was sent out in the summer IT Services informed the Xaverian that torrent traffic has always been blocked by default on their network, and the notice should be more regarded as a reminder to staff, students, and faculty.
For those not in the know, Torrenting is a method of sharing files between two or more users over the internet that has increased in popularity over the death of previous peer-to-peer networks like, Napster, Morpheus, and Kazaa in the early 2000s. Torrents rely on a torrent file that connects the user to any number of other users who also have part, or all, of the file they want to download. The file itself that a user wishes to download is not hosted by any website, but split up across any number of people. Torrents have existed in a grey area, legally, due to the method of sharing. However, attempts by copyright holders to exert their legal rights have been made with varying amounts of success. In some countries, ISPs (in Canada this would be EastLink, Bell, Vidéotron, Rogers, or Sasktel), have monitored the traffic of their customers and can cooperate with copyright holders to identify piracy and enforce corporate interpretations of copyright laws. In other cases, a copyright holder may upload a torrent file to a torrent search website and then as users download the file, the holder may be able identify piracy via the public IP address of pirates. While this has led to some success in prosecuting theft, it has also led to innocent people being prosecuted as it is not always the most accurate form of detection and can easily be avoided by using a VPN (virtual private network).
Users who use Torrent software are also at risk of downloading malware, viruses or other security breaches. The file being downloaded can always be disguised as the desired file but may be malware instead. Not all sites that offer torrent files for download are reputable and may contain malware instead of software, videos, or music that the user intends to download. When using torrent sites, always be sure to do proper research to avoid using websites of ill repute. Additionally, the software which users may download to use torrent files may also, in extremely rare cases, be itself malware of ransomware (in which a malicious person takes over the user’s computer and threatens to delete or share files from their computer unless a ransom is paid), which happened in 2016 to popular Mac OS torrent program, Transmission. There is also the very rare chance a malicious user will use a torrent user’s IP address (which becomes visible to the file host when downloading a torrent) to make a form of attack against the user. Although, this is extremely rare (if unheard of), it is technically possible. To avoid this potential security breach, be sure to use a VPN.
Invariably, when policies and laws are made about torrents the refrain of defence is that torrenting itself is not illegal and there are legitimate uses for torrents, which is true. Many companies use torrent-style software to distribute their software cheaply, like Blizzard did in 2006 to distribute World of Warcraft. However, the more likely truth is that the majority of torrents are made to share copyrighted material. Copyright holders are are, and have been, litigious to the extreme. Users charged with sharing even a single song have faced fines of tens of thousands of dollars, and while courts are slow to realise the absurdity of expecting huge sums of money for a single 99¢ infraction. Rights holders have even tried to charge “facilitators” of piracy, going after ISPs, institutions, and companies whose internet access was used to download copyrighted materials, which is perhaps the main reason that StFX has blocked all torrent access, as torrent bandwidth is, almost certainly, dwarfed many times over by the bandwidth usage of Netlfix and Youtube.
If you believe your need for torrents on campus has legitimate, academic, or business purpose, please contact IT@stfx.ca to request access.