Web Site of Recordings Draws Copyright Concerns

Just where do they draw the line of legality on the Harvard network? One unfortunate first-year found out the hard way when a record company discovered illegal information being distributed from his Web site.

Following the example of countless other Web sites, the student, who asked not to be named, distributed MPEG Audio Layer-3 (MP3) music files on his homepage.

The trouble began when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) discovered his site and wrote a letter to President Neil L. Rudenstine. The group threatened legal action against Harvard unless something was done to stop the student's copyright violations.

The student was asked to dismantle the site and write letters of apology to various deans, including Assistant Dean of Freshmen Eleanor A. Sparagana. His letter was sent to the Administrative Board on Monday, but its decision in the case is still pending, the student said.

MP3s of copyrighted music--while popular and widespread on the Internet--are in fact against the law.

MP3s allow music to be stored in a fairly small amount of space with extremely high-quality sound.

The fact that they are freely distributed on many legitimate-looking Internet sites does not make their copyright violations any less illegal.

Within the past month, the Harvard student said, he created first a personal Web page and then his own FTP server so that his friends could download their favorite songs in MP3 format onto their personal computers.

"I did know it was technically illegal, but I figured that it wasn't any more illegal than anything that happens on the Internet," he said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

In response to a frequently asked question about the legality of these files, a current Web site devoted to MP3s states: "It's legal if you encode MP3s from your own CDs and keep them to yourself. But it's illegal to encode MP3's and trade them with others." The Web site's address is

The situation is analogous to copying CDs onto blank tapes. If a student makes a copy for herself, she probably would not be caught, but if she were to copy a song and distribute it to millions of people, the ramifications would be much more serious.

This is exactly what happened to the Harvard student. His Web page, which was originally password-protected for his close friends only, became a very highly trafficked site on the Internet.

When a friend of the student actually found his MP3 page on a Web search engine, the student immediately shut down anonymous access.

Soon after, the RIAA found his site--which contained 250 songs--and informed Rudenstine of his violations.

In a news release posted on the Internet, Hilary Rosen, president and chief executive of RIAA, said: "Copyright is an American tradition that dates back to our Constitution because it reflects our values."