GW students spared in MP3 lawsuits

Although a number of Georgetown University students are facing legal action for downloading music, GW students have not been affected by the recording industry’s crackdown on file sharers, University officials said.

The Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group that represents the United States recording industry, has asked several colleges to hold the Internet Protocol addresses of students it plans to sue for illegal file sharing. IP addresses, which identify a user’s computer, can be used to track Internet activity.

Boston College, Georgetown and Vanderbilt universities students are among those who could face a prison term and a penalty upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While file sharing is against GW’s Code of Conduct for Users of Computing Systems and Services, GW students are not among those targeted in the suits, said Kerry Washburn, administrative applications director for Information Systems and Services.

On Tuesday, the RIAA filed more than 500 suits against file sharers, and plans to target more computer users in the next few months, industry officials said.

“We have not received any subpoena from the RIAA, and we have no ‘orders’ from (the) RIAA,” Washburn wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.

The University monitors students’ Internet use by tracking IP addresses that handle high volumes of bandwidth, Washburn said. GW notifies students who download large volumes of multimedia files that they may not be in compliance with the Code of Conduct.

ISS also coordinates its efforts with the University’s lawyers to “investigate for other indications of possible illegal file sharing,” Washburn added.

Jonathan Lamy, an RIAA spokesman, was unable to confirm that his organization had filed legal action against Georgetown and Vanderbilt students but said the association has sought the IP addresses of students suspected of pirating copyrighted music.

“First we look for people using copyrighted songs, then we try to find their IP addresses,” he said.

The RIAA has been pursuing a campaign against illegal file-sharing since last year, claiming the online distribution of music and other media through popular programs such as KaZaA has taken away revenue from the recording industry and violated copyright laws.

In a December 2003 case, a judge ruled that the RIAA could not subpoena users’ names from service providers, but Lamy said his group is following legal guidelines by filing suits under “John Doe” names, ensuring anonymity.

Under federal law, penalties for file-sharing and copyright infringement could result in fines reaching $250,000 or three- to six-year prison terms.

Georgetown and Vanderbilt officials said they received e-mails alerting them that some of their students could face legal action.

“I knew when they started with this stuff that it was coming to us,” said Terry Cavender, Vanderbilt’s network security officer, who added that he was not surprised that students at the Tennessee college were targeted.

Cavender said Vanderbilt has received nine notices from the RIAA – the first coming in mid-December – alerting the university that subpoenas of students’ IP addresses would follow.

“Each e-mail represents one computer’s IP address that we have been asked to hold on to,” he said.

He added that he did not know when the actual subpoenas of IP addresses would come.

Laura Cavender, a Georgetown spokeswoman, said Georgetown has received a “handful” of subpoena alerts from the RIAA.

“The notices we’ve received are fairly recent and have come in over the past few weeks,” she said.

Georgetown has complied with the notices and alerted the students whose IP addresses have been targeted, Laura Cavender said.

Both Georgetown and Vanderbilt declined to identify the students who will face legal action.

Although GW has not yet received any subpoena notifications, Lamy, of the recording industry, said students should be aware of the campaign against file sharing.

“Some students have already been caught up in our enforcement process, and more students will be in the future,” he said.

Many GW students said they were unconcerned about the RIAA’s efforts to curb music piracy.

Junior Josh Giles, a KaZaA user, said he does not believe he downloads enough music to be targeted by the RIAA.

“I’m not worried for the amount I use it, which is just a couple of songs a day.” he said. “If I downloaded 1,000 songs a day I would probably be in jail already.”

But junior Catherine Clement removed KaZaA from her computer, fearing she would be subject to legal action.

“I took it off last summer,” she said. “It’s not worth it if you can end up getting sued.”

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