True or false: Is file swapping legal?

Students at one Missouri university have to ace a quiz on digital copyright law if they want to access peer-to-peer software.

Students at one Missouri university don't just have to take surprise quizzes on economics, chemistry, or Spanish these days. They also get pop quizzes on digital copyright law. The online test aims to prevent piracy and violation of copyright laws, and if students want access to peer-to-peer file sharing, they have to ace it.

According to an Associated Press report, the Missouri University of Science and Technology now requires students to correctly answer six questions about digital copyright law before they can use peer-to-peer tools. If they pass the test, they get six hours of access to the software.

File-swapping image

Students are limited to eight monthly stints (of six hours consecutive each) with peer-to-peer software during the academic year, and they must take the test each time they want to use it. The school, located in Rolla, Mo., near the Ozarks, introduced the test as an alternative to taking away access to peer-to-peer file sharing from students and faculty.

A fear of lawsuits from the recording industry has prompted many schools to suspend access altogether. In November, Congress began pushing schools receiving federal funding to develop alternatives--such as subscription-based services or technology-based deterrents--to prevent students from engaging in copyright violations and piracy.

In May, a new law passed in Tennessee requiring any higher-education institution in the state to develop and enforce a policy that prohibits its students from committing copyright infringement.

Tim Doty, Missouri S&T campus systems security analyst, told the AP that the school still wanted to allow peer-to-peer access, "but in a controlled fashion. We're providing them the information to make an informed decision."

Doty said the pre-access quiz appears to be the first such test on a U.S. campus, and he says it cut complaints from the recording industry from 200 during the 2006-2007 school year to a mere eight in the school year just wrapping up.

Unlike regular school quizzes, once students pass this one, it's not the end of the story. If Missouri S&T students don't follow the copyright rules, they can lose their Internet privileges or be reprimanded with fines, community service, research projects, or even suspension.

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