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Digitalk: Where IT's at--Copyright corner

An interview with Larry Benedict and Jerry Grochow

Digitalk interviewed Larry Benedict, dean for Student Life, and Jerrold "Jerry" Grochow, vice president for Information Services and Technology, for a high-level view of how MIT is responding to concerns about peer-to-peer (p2p) file sharing and copyright infringement.

Digitalk: The digital environment has made it easy to infringe on copyrights. Peer-to-peer sharing of music and videos is very common. Can you describe the situation today at MIT and other colleges?

JG: MIT is not unique in having students and other members of the community who have access to the Internet and various opportunities for getting and sharing music, videos and other copyrighted materials. It is certainly true that there have been a number of instances of MIT students downloading or sharing files, possibly in violation of copyright laws.

LB: Again, this problem is not unique to MIT or its students. Colleges around the country are dealing with this issue, as are high schools. And it's also an issue for faculty and staff.

Digitalk: How is MIT responding to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and its aggressive campaign of suing copyright infringers--especially students?

LB: MIT is working to make the community aware of copyright laws, that copyright infringement is illegal, and that if community members do infringe on copyrights, there's a possibility they will be caught and identified by the recording industry, among others. We want to help people understand that they may be putting themselves at legal and financial risk. Lawsuits have been filed. Some MIT students have ended up settling with the RIAA for thousands of dollars--to avoid going to court.

We also want to be clear about MIT policies and communicate that there are resources for learning about and responding to these issues. That was the purpose of the letter that Jerry and I sent out to students in early October.

Another point: This is not just about the RIAA, we're not just talking about music. MIT has gotten take-down notices from a number of different kinds of business and industries.

JG: It could be motion pictures, photographs, text. If we get a complaint that someone at MIT has posted a photograph or other copyrighted material without permission, we tell the person to take it down from his or her web site.

Digitalk: Will MIT block p2p traffic on MIT's network or put other restrictions in place?

LB: MIT is not playing the role of Big Brother. We are not monitoring hard drives or network traffic, nor are we going to.

JG: Given the very legitimate uses of MITnet, some involving peer-to-peer software, MIT has no plans to block or restrict traffic. We rely on students and others to be responsible in their use of the network.

Digitalk: Ultimately, who does the MIT community look to for leadership on this very thorny issue?

LB: As with many other issues at MIT, we look to community members for personal responsibility and accountability. Ultimately, each individual has to make a decision about what he or she is going to do. MIT gives its guidance, but after that, it's really the person's decision.

JG: Like many things in society, your personal actions can affect others as well. If the actions of community members don't conform to the law and accepted standards, this can affect the perception of MIT in the larger world. These actions have a societal impact, not just a personal impact.

For a statement of the Institute's policies on copyright, go to

Digitalk is compiled by Information Services and Technology.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 24, 2007 (download PDF).

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