Students face file-sharing lawsuits

GW community members are being targeted in the recording industry’s latest wave of lawsuits against online file-sharers.

The Recording Industry Association of America announced Tuesday that it will bring legal action against an unidentified number of GW students and staff in its effort to curb illegal file-sharing on networks such as KaZaA. Students could face more than $100,000 in penalties if they are found liable in the suits.

The RIAA, a trade group that represents major record companies, has asked officials at 21 universities, including GW, to disclose the Internet Protocol address of a total of 89 individuals. IP addresses are used to identify computers and the identity of their owners.

GW officials said they have not yet received subpoenas from the RIAA for students’ IP addresses, and indicated that they would review the industry’s formal requests to see if they are “lawfully issued and enforceable.”

“(T)hey will be acted upon as required by law,” said Matt Nehmer, assistant director of Media Relations, in a University press release Tuesday afternoon.

Nehmer said University officials are unsure whether the IP addresses requested belong to GW students or staff, and are awaiting formal notification from the recording industry.

“It’s going to be hard for us to comment or take any action until we see those subpoenas,” Nehmer said in an interview Wednesday.

While the record companies have been suing file-sharers since January, Tuesday’s actions marks the first time that the group identified GW students as defendants in the suits.

RIAA officials would not disclose how many GW students will face legal action, but said they were suing students who attended schools in areas – including D.C. – in which the recording industry has legal counsel. Students from the University of Maryland and George Mason and Georgetown universities were also cited in Tuesday’s suit.

“There’s no specific method; we’re trying to maximize efficiency in our litigation efforts,” said an RIAA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In the next few months, the official said the recording industry would bring more lawsuits against illegal file-sharers and would not stop until officials are satisfied that more people are using legal networks to download music.

Since the creation of illegal file-sharing networks in the late 1990s, record executives have seen their profits drop as computer users have opted to download music for free from networks such as Napster and KaZaA instead of purchasing CDs.

More than 1,000 individuals, including students from Boston College and New York and Vanderbilt universities, have faced legal action since January.

“This is an ongoing process, and we will continue to file until it’s absolutely necessary,” the RIAA official said.

“There’s no excuse to steal it,” the official added. “This is an illegal act, and there’s no excuse for it.”

Some students said they have stopped downloading music in light of the RIAA’s legal campaign against file sharers.

“I don’t download anymore, but it still scares me,” said senior Oriane Schwartzman of the lawsuits.

“I had no idea until recently that I was doing something illegal,” she added.

Illegally downloading movies and music is against GW’s Code of Conduct, and Information Systems and Services officials alert students who have excessive amounts of pirated media on their computers. ISS officials declined to comment about this week’s lawsuit.

Other students said they would continue to download music.

“I still do file-sharing because the way I look at it, I take one song and I would probably buy the CD if I like the song and want to support the band,” freshman James Peters said.

-Gabriel Okolski contributed to this report.

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