Congress moves to stop illegal file-sharing on campuses

Congress has joined the fray in combating illegal file-sharing on campus.

Members of the House last week sent a letter to various colleges and universities asking for cooperation in combating illegal file-sharing on campuses.

The letter, sent May 1 to 19 different institutes of higher learning, requested information about each college’s acceptable use policy, anti-piracy policy, technical methodology for preventing illegal file-sharing and whether each college promotes legal alternatives to obtain copyrighted material.

The list of schools, which includes Duke, Michigan State, UCLA, Columbia and Tennessee, was culled from a list of schools most frequently receiving copyright infringement notices in the recent past.

A school’s inclusion on such a list, as written in one of the letters, is “a troubling indication that authorized users of your university computer networks routinely utilize your facilities to engage in the theft of copyrighted works.”

The letter was authored and signed by Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, George Miller, D-Calif., Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., Howard Berman, D-Calif., and Howard Coble, R-N.C.

It requested a reply by May 31. “Your full and complete responses to the enclosed survey will assist us in determining what ‘best practices’ need to be instituted,” the letter said.

“If we do not receive acceptable answers,” Smith said in a statement, “Congress will be forced to act.”

“Universities have a moral and legal obligation to ensure students do not use campus computers for illegal downloading,” he added. “These schools do not give away their intellectual property for free, and they should not expect musicians to do so.”

The Recording Industry Association of America praised the congressional efforts. In a May 2 statement, RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol said “illegal file-trafficking is a shared problem for the entertainment industry and universities alike.”

“We recognize the many pressing issues facing administrators today, but we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to theft on such a massive scale. After extensive hearings and inquiry, members of Congress are right to expect answers. We welcome this effort to document the commitment and resources that universities are putting forth to address this problem.”

Also on May 2, the RIAA sent what it calls “pre-litigation letters” to 402 students at 13 different colleges and universities. The letters inform students that they will face a “forthcoming copyright infringement suit.”

Thirty-five of those letters were sent to students at Duke. Larry Moneta, Duke’s vice president for student affairs, said the university also had received the congressional letter and planned on responding to it by the deadline.

Duke, Moneta said, sends letters annually to its students warning them of the “pitfalls, legal consequences and ethical implications” of illegal file-sharing. The university also has a number of reactionary procedures in place, including limiting an individual student’s bandwidth or reprimanding an individual student within the university’s judicial system.

“There isn’t a single, quick fix,” Moneta said about illegal file-sharing in general. “These behaviors begin before students arrive at college.” He also noted that Duke would likely re-think some of its approaches to tackling illegal file-sharing.

In February, the Associated Press reported that Steve Tally, a spokesman for Purdue University, said that Purdue would rarely pass along pre-litigation letters to students.

“In a sense, the letter is asking us to pursue an investigation,” Tally said then, “and as the service provider, we don’t see that as our role.” Purdue, however, has said that the statements were taken out of context.

The letter from the representatives, however, cited the Tally quote-though not by name-and asked, “Do you and your institution agree with this statement? If ‘yes,’ why? Please fully explain your response.”

Also in the letter was a request for whether the university has an acceptable-use policy that “includes an unambiguous prohibition against illegal peer-to-peer file trafficking of copyrighted works through the use of computer and networking systems.”

It asked for specifics about the acceptable-use policy, as well, including whether provisions exist for notifying violators of said policy and what consequences exist for its violation.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.