RIAA targets students

Posted 7:50pm Oct 2

by Jason Hipp
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

On Sept. 9, one Boston University student logged onto a downloading program, one of many peer-to-peer networks that facilitate the exchange of music and movies, and traded some Janet Jackson and B2K tunes.

Less than two weeks later, the student faced a lawsuit from the Recording Industry Association of America, claiming copyright infringement.

The lawsuit, along with 261 similar suits issued Sept. 9, is part of a “multi-faceted approach to fight piracy,” according to RIAA spokeswoman Amanda Collins, which claims it has lost millions of dollars. The approach has brought a backlash against the industry as well as an on-going debate about the morality of file-sharing and possible solutions.

A recent FOX News poll reported that 47 percent of respondents disapprove of people downloading music over the Internet compared with 35 percent who approve. But in the 18-34 age group, the group most likely to take part in file sharing, 61 percent of respondents approved.

“I like the fact that I can download music for free, but I recognize that it1s wrong to the people who contribute to making music,” said Jason Mollick, a George Washington University freshman who said he downloads music from home but not on campus. “You’ve got to understand their position. They make music so they can sell it.”

By Sept. 29, 52 of the 261 lawsuits were settled with payments ranging from $2,500 to $7,500 each, and Nielson/Net Ratings found a 41 percent drop over the last three months in the use of Kazaa, the leading music file-sharing program.

Diane Cabell from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School said the excessive costs of court defense would mean at least a short term victory for the RIAA. “You’re going to pay $60,000 to defend your right to download free songs? What this means is the RIAA will win, but not because of a real discussion of the issues. They’ll win because no one stood up to face them.”

As part of their campaign, the RIAA has engaged colleges and universities, primarily through the formulation of the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Companies, which hopes to provide university administrators with resources for educational efforts, technological solutions and prospects for legislative collaboration. The Committee is co-chaired by Graham Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University, and includes representatives from Stanford University, Yale University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Rochester.

“We have a good working relationship with colleges,” said Collins.

The result is a tough stance issued by most universities.

“We do not want our network used for any unlawful purposes, whether that be file sharing or anything else,” said Boston University Associate General Counsel Robert Smith.

Enforcement, however, provides a challenge, with some colleges taking an aggressive stance and others playing a reactionary role. At Penn State University, students are warned if a weekly 1.5 gigabyte bandwidth limit is surpassed.

Technology staff at The George Washington University compile a “Top Talker” list of the 20 most active students each week, issuing an e-mail warning if the students continue to abuse the network through excessive bandwidth usage. GW will disconnect a student1s network connection if he fails to comply after two warnings.

Georgetown University Information Services will require students returning in the spring semester to pass an online exam that demonstrates their understanding of the Concept of Fair Use Policy, which includes copyright infringement. The University said it responds to all complaints issued by the RIAA against individual students, and the students can face disciplinary action through the student judicial process.

At Catholic University, Director of Academic Technology Services Dr. William Lantry believes tracking individual bandwidth usage is a “breach of policy.” But when agents of the RIAA send notifications regarding specific students through the General Counsel Office the University received four in September students are “called in, educated, and promise not to make anymore copyrighted materials available,” Lantry said. “If they do it again, they get yanked from the network.”

Thus far, the RIAA has targeted users who have uploaded more than 1,000 songs, using their computers as servers for others to download.

“Right now we are targeting individuals making the most files available, while we understand that downloading is also illegal,” said Collins. Users who act as servers can be sued for $750-$150,000 per song.

The RIAA plans to file hundreds more lawsuits starting in October, but when or how the ultimate solution arrives is anybody’s guess.

“I think a lot of people would prefer to do it legally if it can be done affordably,” said Cabell, also citing a smaller database of offerings from legal music downloading services as a major drawback. “Right now free downloading services are the best thing going.”

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