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Colleges Experience MP3 Crackdown

By Matthew F. Palmer
STAFF REPORTER

Recent crackdowns against the illegal distribution of audio files on college campuses have led to a new emphasis on MP3 files, a popular compressed audio format.

Seventy-three students at Carnegie Mellon University lost their in room connections to the Internet for illegally sharing copyrighted MP3 files over the university’s network, according to The Tartan, CMU’s student newspaper. In order to regain their online access, the students had to attend a lecture on copyright law.

The sanctions came after a random search of 250 student computers that were publicly served files on the campus network or had easily guessed passwords, The Tartan reported. Also, the Record Industry Association of America reportedly alerted CMU officials to student sites with pirated recordings.

The RIAA also recently threatened to bring a lawsuit against the University of South Carolina and one of its students who was allegedly selling copyrighted MP3s, “Wired News” reported. The suit was dropped after the university installed a system to track IP addresses with high online traffic, possibly caused by the exchange of pirated music.

MIT responds to piracy

MIT has not had to issue sanctions for MP3 piracy according to Information Systems’ Project Manager and stopit@mit.edu coordinator Timothy J. McGovern. However, complaints have been made regarding copyright infringements and, following an investigation, students have been asked to remove the illegal files.

“When we get complaints from a copyright holder or agent like the RIAA, we are required by law to investigate and take some action,” McGovern said.

The investigations are not like the surprise searches at CMU, McGovern said. “The law requires that complaints from copyright holders are specific and have an address. We then go and look at the sites.”

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act does not hold Internet service providers responsible for illegal content on their servers unless they have been alerted of the problem and don’t act. However, when organizations like the RIAA tell a college that they’ve discovered illegal MP3s, the college is legally required to look into it.

The Act also requires that an organization be set up to receive and act on these complaints. stopit took on that responsibility for MIT.

“We’ve been pretty vigorous about enforcing copyrights even before the act came into place,” McGovern said.

Richard J. Barbalace of the Student Information Processing Board declined to comment, saying that SIPB would need at least a week to formulate an official statement on MP3 issues.

RIAA launches piracy campaign

The RIAA’s actions with CMU and USCS are part of its SoundByting Campaign, whose purpose “is to raise awareness that reproducing and distributing music illegally is akin to stealing, and such actions have serious ethical and legal consequences,” according to its web site.

It claims to be protecting free speech, though many students worry that the crackdowns are an unfair violation of their rights. The RIAA is a non-profit group who represents 350 recording companies.

CMU had been a target of the RIAA for three years according to The Tartan. Without commenting on the CMU case, McGovern said that stopit is not afraid if the same type of scrutiny were placed on MIT. “We have no concern that we’d be singled out because we’ve been following the laws,” he said.