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Congress threatens colleges

Politicians try campus quiz on piracy

Congress threatened 20 universities with unspecified repercussions if they fail to provide “acceptable answers” about what they’re doing to stop or inhibit students from illegal downloading and file sharing.

“If we do not receive acceptable answers, Congress will be forced to act,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

A bipartisan group of members who serve on either judicial or educational committees in the House joined Smith in sending a letter and a survey on Tuesday to 20 schools identified as having the greatest amount of online piracy. The survey is an exhaustive questionnaire seeking detailed information about each university’s antipiracy efforts.

“We are asking these universities to report back to us by May 31,” Smith said. “We want to know exactly what they plan to do to stop illegal downloading on their campuses.”

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

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property and a co-signer of the letter, said, “By answering the survey, universities will be required to examine how they address piracy on their campuses.”

The letter noted that while five House hearings into the problem have revealed “modest progress” by some campus administrations, they have also yielded “substantial evidence to question the commitment of some institutions to adopt and, more importantly, implement policies that will actually contribute to a reduced incidence of campus digital piracy. The fact that copyright piracy is not unique to college and university campuses is not an excuse for higher education officials to fail to take reasonable steps to eliminate such activity nor to appropriately sanction such conduct when discovered.”

Survey questions include the following:

  • “Does your institution have an ‘acceptable use’ policy that includes an unambiguous prohibition against illegal peer-to-peer file trafficking of copyrighted works through the use of campus computer and networking systems?”

  • “Please describe, in detail, your institution’s formal policy or procedure for processing and responding to notices of infringement received.”

  • “Beginning with the 2002-03 academic year and for each school year thereafter, please identify the number of student violations of your institution’s acceptable use policies that involved illegal downloading, uploading, or file trafficking of copyrighted material. Please also note the number of works whose copyrights were infringed.”

Reps for the motion picture and music recording industries welcomed announcement of the letters and surveys that went to Columbia, Pennsylvania, Boston U., UCLA, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Duke, Rochester Institute of Technology, U. of Massachusetts at Boston, Michigan, Ohio U., U. of Nebraska at Lincoln, Tennessee, South Carolina, U. of Massachusetts at Amherst, Michigan State, Howard, N.C. State and U. of Wisconsin at Madison.

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