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RIAA continues file-sharing lawsuits

Scott Brodfuehrer | Thursday, March 25, 2004

The Recording Industry Association of America announced it is filing a new wave of lawsuits against computer users illegally sharing copyrighted music, including 89 individuals at 21 universities. While none of the individuals sued attend Notre Dame, officials here are concerned the RIAA could sue a student in the future.RIAA president Cary Sherman said in an online press conference that college campuses are an attractive place for illegal file sharing because of free and unlimited bandwidth.”Obviously, college students are a big part of the problem, and therefore it was only a question of time before university users would be named as defendants,” Sherman said. “And we hope that it will send a message to students across the country that this activity is illegal and that engaging [in] it can have consequences.”Sherman said the RIAA filed lawsuits against 532 illegal file sharers and the average number of files shared by each was 837. Universities with users being sued include Georgetown, Indiana, Michigan, Stanford, USC and Villanova, among others. The RIAA has sued a total of 1,977 individuals and has settled with over 400 who paid fines averaging $3,000. No suits have gone to trial and Sherman said that the RIAA was likely to continue issuing lawsuits in the future.”This is an ongoing program. It won’t end with the settlement of these cases,” he said.Notre Dame has seen an increase in the number of take down notices from the RIAA, which require the user to stop sharing copyrighted material but, unlike a lawsuit, do not seek financial damages. Chief Information Officer Gordon Wishon estimated that before January, OIT received four or five take down notices a month, but since the start of this year, they are seeing four or five notices each week.”So far the RIAA has been, I think, pretty accommodating in allowing us to, rather than issuing a subpoena and taking the kid to court or suing the kid, allowing us to notify the student and to voluntarily take care of the issue,” Wishon said.When OIT receives a take down notice, it is forwarded to General Counsel and the student is notified that there has been an allegation made. The matter is also forwarded to the Office of Residence Life for possible disciplinary action.”Typically the student takes the infringing material off and the student promises to [never] do it again and that’s all that’s ever said and done about it,” Wishon said.Sherman said that the take down process is separate from litigations and that the RIAA sends take down notices when its crawler finds infringing activity, with more egregious infringers more likely to be targeted for litigation.Wishon cautioned that while public statements from the RIAA indicate they are only targeting egregious violators, he has seen action taken against students sharing a small number of copyrighted files.”I know I have seen notices issued, or subpoenas issued, where the student was responsible for files in the tens rather than in the hundreds or thousands,” Wishon said.Wishon urged students not to download or share illegal copyrighted material and to be aware that they could be sued if they continue.”We are urging students to be aware of the risks that they incur when they engage in this activity and know that it is a violation not only of University policy but of law,” he said. “There is no shelter here at the University for those who are subject of lawsuits or other actions.” Sherman said users also should not count on peer to peer file sharing services to mask their identity.”People who rely on promises of anonymity from P2P providers are likely to get just what they paid for,” he said. “These people are in business to make money, not to protect you.” Sherman said the goal of the lawsuits is not to generate revenue, but to deter users from illegally downloading copyrighted material. He said that the music industry lost one-third of its sales in three years to illegal downloads and was being “downloaded to death.” He encouraged students to use legal online music services instead, such as iTunes, Napster 2.0 and Rhapsody.At Notre Dame, Wishon said that OIT is not taking any additional action to seek out users who are illegally downloading music. Currently, an application called a Packeteer is used to limit the amount of bandwidth that peer to peer software can use, but Wishon said it is not the right solution to stop illegal downloads in the long term.”The OIT is not the police. We’ve got enough work to do without trying to police the activities of students on the network, except where it is obviously in violation of policy or law,” Wishon said.