Congressmen Who Took Money From The RIAA Send Chiding Letters To Universities

“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 after sending a chiding letter and “survey” to 20 U.S. universities thought to have the “greatest amount of online piracy.”

Lamar’s threats were vague but are definitely not connected to the fact that in the last election cycle, he received $7,500 in campaign contributions from the RIAA Political Action Committee as well as $2,000 from the Warner Music Political Action Committee. A group called “Texans for Lamar Smith”pocketed a cool $1,000 from Andy Lack, the Chairman and CEO of Sony/BMG, as well as another $1,000 from the Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. Political Action Committee.

Brian Rust spokesperson for UW’s Division of Information Technology, agreed to participate in the study. From the UW Badger:

“We’re glad that they’re asking us before action, but I don’t think we are as irresponsible as their press release and letter implies,” Rust said. “UW-Madison and all of our peer institutions have gone to great lengths to notify people, warn people and post notices via e-mail.”

Rust questioned whether the committee completely understands the complexity of sharing prevention without intruding on the educational initiatives that use similar technologies.

“There are many legitimate uses of file sharing,” Rust said. “If we prevented anyone from sharing music files, what would happen to music appreciation classes that involve downloaded legitimate files? They’d be pretty unhappy, and we’d hear about it.”

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), a co-signer of the letter told Variety: “By answering the survey, universities will be required to examine how they address piracy on their campuses.”

Berman received $3,500 in contributions from the RIAA PAC. He also grabbed $2,100 from David Geffen, $2,100 from Jeffrey Katzenberg, and $2,100 from Steven Spielberg.

Even though Berman is from California, he received $22,700 from 23 individuals living in New York. People like: BMI/Executive Robert L. Ahrold, BMI/Sr. Vice President Marvin L. Berenson, Homemaker Clarissa A. Bronfman (she was good for $4,200!), , Edgar M. Bronfman (another $4,200!), and Robert A. Iger, the CEO of Disney.

Sorry it that was boring. Here’s an excerpt of the letter from Variety:

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.

Meanwhile, the RIAA has sent out the next batch of “settlement letters” to universities. There are some new ones on their list. 402 letters were sent to: Brandeis, Duke, Iowa State, Northern Illinois, Syracuse, and Tufts Universities; the Universities of Georgia, Iowa, Southern California, South Florida, and Tennessee; the University of Texas at Austin; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Congress threatens colleges [Variety]
Congress steps into RIAA feud [UW Badger]
RIAA Sends More ‘Prelitigation’ Letters [Chronicle Of Higher Education]