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Copyright quiz limits music file sharing at Rolla

Friday, May 30, 2008 | 9:25 p.m. CDT; updated 3:01 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ROLLA — The Rolla campus of the University of Missouri System is resorting to an old standby to reduce illegal music downloads by students: the pop quiz.

Missouri University of Science and Technology now requires students to ace a six-question quiz on digital copyright law before gaining access to peer-to-peer software that allows users to share music and movies online.

As a result, the number of copyright complaints by the recording industry has plummeted from 200 in 2006-07 to just eight in the academic year that recently concluded, said Tim Doty, a campus systems security analyst.

“We’re not acting as copyright police,” he said. “We’re still allowing peer-to-peer access, but in a controlled fashion. We’re providing them the information to make an informed decision.”

Students who violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act can face costly settlements of several thousand dollars or even lawsuits by the recording industry. So can universities that fail to stop repeat offenders.

On some campuses, including the University of Florida and Ohio University, that has meant a move to eliminate access to peer-to-peer software, which also can be used for research and other legitimate academic purposes.

Peer-to-peer services allow computer users to make files on their personal computers available to other users.

Most schools that continue to allow peer-to-peer access have toughened the penalties for students nabbed in the anti-piracy crackdown.

At Stanford, students who don’t remove illegal downloads from their computers lose their campus Internet connections and must pay $100 to reconnect. A second offense boosts that fee to $500.

On the Missouri S&T campus, students also can face fines and a loss of Internet privileges, be ordered to do community service, be assigned research papers and even be suspended from classes.

Many schools have chosen to provide students with free, legal music sharing programs such as Ruckus, Rhapsody and the now-legal version of Napster. But those programs carry their own restrictions, from more limited song selections to the inability to transfer songs to iPods and other portable listening devices.

Since illegal users can be identified only by a numerical Internet address, the recording, film and television industries rely upon colleges to match that information with the schools’ own records to identify users.

“Universities that educate their students about what’s legal online and what’s not are taking a step in the right direction,” said Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America.

“What we’ve found to be the most effective is a comprehensive approach that employs a combination of tools: innovative educational programs, legal ways to enjoy music and technological tools that prevent the misuse of campus networks in the first place.”

Rolla students who complete the online quiz with a perfect score acquire six hours of peer-to-peer access. They are limited to eight uses a month, or a maximum of 20 each academic year.

Several schools require students caught with illegal downloads to complete similar tests, or watch an anti-piracy DVD provided by the recording industry. But Missouri S&T appears to be the only campus in the country where a test is required in advance, Doty said.

Doty and other technology experts on campus acknowledge that the quiz isn’t foolproof, but instead is a deterrent. Each time a user logs on, the order of the six questions changes, as do the possible answers in the multiple-choice exercise.

“It’s intentionally worded so you have to read it,” Doty said. “Otherwise it becomes a click exercise. The intent is to educate.”


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