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P2P Warnings Get EPIC Response

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is challenging a letter recently sent by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to colleges and universities seeking the schools' cooperation in monitoring peer-to-peer file trading on university networks.

In its own open letter to colleges and universities, EPIC wrote, "While network monitoring is appropriate for certain purposes such as security and bandwidth management, the surveillance of individuals' Internet communications implicates important rights, and raises questions about the appropriate role of higher education institutions in policing private behavior."

In October, the RIAA and other recording industry groups accelerated their efforts crack down P2P file trading by warning both the educational and the business communities of the possible legal liabilities of allowing students or employees using school or corporate networks to swap files.

The RIAA, Motion Picture Association of America, the National Music Publishers' Association and the Songwriters Guild warned that "allowing employees to use your corporate network to illegally distribute copyrighted music and movies is no different from software piracy." The groups sent a similar letter to more than 2,000 colleges and universities.

"While the RIAA has legitimate interests in protecting against infringement, it is worth noting that copyright law sets limits on the exclusive rights of content owners, making some uses of protected material legal," EPIC wrote. "The copyright trade association approach has not always been sensitive to these different types of uses, while raising significant privacy and speech concerns. Now, the RIAA wishes to involve colleges and universities in the process of policing the communicative activities of students, staff, and faculty in a way that is significantly outside institutional missions."

EPIC further urged colleges and universities to use "caution in adopting network monitoring and other similar methods to address concerns about infringement."

Under current law, educational institutions are required to take down infringing content hosted on a university Web server. According to EPIC, these provisions provide an "adequate remedy" to address online infringement. The Washington-based privacy group argues that the RIAA's proposal would shift the burden to colleges and universities to devote scarce resources to monitoring online communications and to identifying and "prosecuting" individuals suspected of using P2P networks to commit copyright violations.

"This is neither a reasonable nor an appropriate burden to place on institutions of higher education. Refusing to accept this burden will not leave the copyright trade associations without recourse in cases of infringement via P2P networks; instead, the power to authorize policing and adjudicate guilt or innocence will remain where it belongs, in the courts," EPIC wrote. "If a copyright owner suspects such infringement, it can initiate a lawsuit against the suspected wrongdoer."