Torrents and Plunder: Piracy Rife In Cambridge

INVESTIGATION: We reveal over 250 reported cases of piracy since 2010, and there's evidence of more going unpunished.

Cambridge students may be some of the brightest in the country, but they’re not above stealing.

An investigation by The Tab has revealed students have been caught illegally downloading copyrighted material over 250 times in the past two years, while many more are downloading without being caught.

A Freedom of Information request revealed the University was sent 259 copyright violation notices between August 2010 and January 2012. Every college had at least one case apart from Clare.

St John’s has the most cyber-pirates, with 22 reported incidents. Queens’ was close behind with 19 cases, followed by King’s and Wolfson, both with 16, and Trinity Hall with 15.

Piracy wasn’t just confined to college networks though. Four cases were tracked to the Chemistry department, while Architecture, Biochemistry and Chemical Engineering each had three incidents.

Even the University Computing Service (UCS) were caught stealing cyber-booty on one occasion.

Copyrighted material typically includes music, films and games, and is most often downloaded via torrent programs like Vuze or BitTorrent.

Copyright holders send complaints to the University when they discover their material being torrented on the University network. It’s then up to the University to track down the offender who is dealt with by their college.

George Lamb, a third year at St John’s who was caught, told The Tab: “I downloaded Shutter Island using µTorrent. They took my internet connection and said the reason they had taken me off was because Paramount Pictures had noticed me illegally downloading one of their films.

“I was instructed to delete µTorrent and the film and told my internet would be given back as it was my first offence. They said if I was caught again things would be more serious and I’d have to see the dean.”

Uni regulations give colleges the power to suspend access to the internet and fine people up to £175. Colleges can also force students to pay the value of what they downloaded.

Lewis Tan, a Trinity second year, told The Tab: “Trinity crack down instantly so no one does it. My friend got caught and within an hour of torrenting they had shut down his internet.”

But despite punishment, piracy in Cambridge shows no sign of slowing down. Forty of the total 259 cases occured in the last four months. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are also many students downloading without getting caught.

An anonymous John’s third year told us: “I download stuff all the time, I’ve never been caught. I download 2 to 3 albums a week. I’ve stopped downloading films because they’re such big files it makes it so obvious with your usage.”

A third year engineer who’s received a warning, told us he’s “torrented again since” without any problems.

A Selwyn third year also told The Tab: “I downloaded a few albums, a film and some classic PS1 games I used to own. I’ve never been caught, but I only did it on the odd occasion so it probably never looked really bad. I’m sure lots of people do it.”

Have you downloaded music, films, TV or games illegally while at Cambridge?

  • Engineer

    First rule of torrenting: You enable encryption

  • Engineer

    Also piracy is not stealing by any definition, get it right.

    • Pirate

      Sharing is caring.

    • Somalian average Joe

      American and russian naval forces disagree

    • Errrrrrm

      It's taking something which does not belong to you and not paying for it, how is that not stealing? And it's not even like stealing food when you're starving, piracy is an active choice NOT to pay for something, the lack of which will not do you any harm.

      • Pirate

        You aren't actually physically taking anything. FileSHARING means that a COPY is made, it isn't being removed from somewhere where there would have been a restocking fee and an ACTUAL QUANTIFIABLE loss would have been made.

        • Logic Friend

          Mate, you can't make piracy seem more legitimate by quibbling over language…

          You're supposed to be paying for something which you're actually getting for free via illegal means. In that way, even if it isn't technically stealing, it's close enough that for the purposes of this conversation it isn't fruitful to draw the distinction.

          • Buddy

            You know nothing of logic, 'mate'. 'Quibbling' over language is actually pretty important. It isn't theft, nobody loses – if you weren't going to buy it otherwise, what difference does it make to anyone? There's a net gain of pleasure in the world. The law has nothing to do with it, it's outdated and should change.

        • Lawyer

          Nope. Not how the crime of theft works. It's stealing.

  • Wat

    Anyone who answered 'No' to that poll is a fucking idiot. Ever listen to a song on YouTube? Save a photo for which you didn't own the copyright? Watch any streaming porn recently? Yeah.

    • Distinction

      In my mind there's a difference between downloading film and music onto your computer that you haven't paid for and playing a youtube video of one song. Furthermore, many internet photos are on a creative commons license. Plus streaming porn is often not illegal (whereas streaming copyright music is).
      I make a distinction and I'm pretty sure the law (and university) does too. When was the last time someone was fined for watching a youtube music vid? Especially as many musicians have their own official channels now.

    • Anna431

      Let's have a look at the poll question again shall we:

      "Have you downloaded music, films, TV or games illegally while at Cambridge?"

      Now let's look at your examples:

      Listening to a song on Youtube – not downloading.
      Saving a photo – not "music, films, TV or games".
      Watching streaming porn – again, not downloading.

      Who exactly were you saying isn't very clever?

      • right on

        plus none of those things are illegal…

        • Anna431

          Sorry dude, they're all most likely breach of copyright, watching music videos on YouTube included. My point was it's just not what the poll question was asking. But thanks for backing me up nonetheless!

          • wrong on

            watching music videos on YouTube isn't a breach of copyright, most of the videos are uploaded by the copyright holders

      • Le Comp Sci

        How do you think you listen to the song if it doesn't download it bit by bit to your computer? What do you think the bar filling up means.


        • LawStudent

          Anybody who thinks about it obviously realises that there is a technical download but, as it is not stored, there is no appropriation of the content so no crime.

          • True

            At least not until SOPA/PIPA or ACTA

            • LawStudent

              The first two (I don't know enough about the last one) don't change the underlying law, they just provide for extreemely heavy handed enforcement which would force most popular websites off the internet.

        • Armchair Critic

          Streaming ≠ Downloading

  • love my hand

    If porno movies count, then lock me up and throw away the key!

    • Great

      Cool story Lu

      • Lu-dog

        I love Chitty Chitty Gang Bang

  • The 8th Commandment

    Lol at Westcott caught twice.

  • "the value"

    …of anything copyable in huge numbers (relative to demand) at near zero cost is near zero.

    Computers are for commies

    • Confused

      Too intellectual for my liking. Comment on varsity, not the tab.

      • Varsity

        Yes, we'd love to get our first comment!

  • har-de-har

    well clearly the issue of illegal downloading is of Paramount importance.

  • piracy police

    thank you to the people who voted yes, you'll be hearing from us soon.

  • TPJ

    Unfortunately I'm too busy with U21s training to download any illegal files


      No one likes you. Or your U21s.

      • TPJ

        I'm too busy cavorting with the U21s groupies to care about your opinion.

        • TPJ reformist

          I used to hate TPJ, but then I facebook stalked him, and he's an ugly fucker…
          Now I'm just glad he's getting some attention. Keep at it folks!

          • U21s

            i) We completely disagree.
            ii) It's obviously not TPJ writing these comments so why are you making it personal to him.

            In conclusion, you can do one.


            The U21s

    • TPJ

      Unfortunately I'm too busy leaving stupid comments on the tab to download any illegal files.

  • apt punishment

    anyone who downloads illegally should be made to walk the plank.

    • i get it


  • First Rule

    I wish my college would be a bit less restrictive about network connections. Then I could pirate freely without getting caught (i.e. not using torrents).

  • Wedge

    I got caught downloading Karate Kid (the new one). FUCK THE PO-LICE

    • judge

      pipe down newnham

    • GCC

      Haha Tom Searle.

  • Long John Silver

    Your booty can never compare to my plunder. To treasure island, not pirate bay. AAAAAHAHAHAHA

  • CompSci

    "torrent programs like BitTorrent"

    …nearly. not quite

    • Not a CompSci

      If you're referring to the nature of BitTorrent as a file sharing protocol, you should also appreciate that the author was referring to the BitTorrent p2p program using said protocol.

      • Nerd Alert


  • uhhhh

    According to Wikipedia, there's about 20,000 students and staff in Cambridge, which means that 250 people being caught is 1 in 80, right? Of course, piracy no doubt *is* 'rife', but not if we trust these numbers (which I don't).

  • Engineer

    Just download it to a server somewhere else, then directly download it into the university, it looks just like any other file, none of this P2P packet business. Also you can then use the department internet connections where the limiting factor in speed becomes the USB stick you're saving onto rather than the internet.

    • How

      do you do that?

      • Tony

        Mate you don't because streaming is dodgy. real dodgy

  • Matt Burke

    I downloaded Girls Gone Wild II, Forest Hump and Rimmerama IV simultaneously with no repercussions… Maybe I've just got tekkers

  • Suspicious

    …that the computer science department doesn't appear in the faculty rankings.

    • Joe

      CompScis know how to use seed boxes.

  • Somalian

    We've got problems with piracy where I'm from as well. Our pirates don't care about being deaned though.

    • Somalilander


  • Weasel

    Who gives a badger?

  • CamDC


    • First rule

      What is the first rule?

  • pirate

    if we're all pirates…LADS TRIP TO MOGADISHU

  • Pirate

    I only download Arr and B

    • Hmmm…

      Then you're not a pirate, you're a gangsta.

    • B2's Lu

      Worst pun ever.

  • lol


  • Helper

    Hint Friends. DO NOT upload…
    Engineer, elucidate will you.

    • Engineer

      Is this someone I know? Also yeah I managed to keep an upload going the other day in excess of 50GB external traffic by accident, didn't get any complaints from college. Private tracker FTMFW!

  • James

    1: For the author: Downloading the files you have described is copyright infringement, but not theft (no one is deprived of the use of a an object through the act of downloading) and certainly not a criminal offence unless you are silly enough to distribute files further (that's why you shouldn't use torrents…).

    2: For those caught: ever heard of VPN or TOR? Quite cheap/free, and simple to use. Maybe slightly slower, but without searching your pc (and that would require a court order) no one can prove that you are infringing copyright — all the college knows about is your higher data usage (which they could complain about) — and record companies / websites don't know your true IPs. (Ps. don't use BT over TOR — doesn't work.)

  • Clare

    …clearly we just didn't get caught.

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