Recording industry sues three students for file sharing

Lawyers representing the recording industry served the University with a subpoena Monday asking officials to identify three students being sued for distributing music on file-sharing networks.

The Recording Industry Association of America sued the students by looking at their computers’ Internet Protocol addresses, which can be used to identify a computer and its owner. The music industry trade group will not be able to identify the three students until GW releases their names.

GW Associate General Counsel Linda Schutjer said the University sent the subpoena to outside lawyers to make sure it is “validly enforceable.” The University would most likely identify the students within the next week, she said.

“The subpoenas look fine to me. They look appropriately issued,” Schutjer said.

The suits have also led GW officials to consider setting up a legal file-sharing system that would allow students and non-GW affiliated computers to exchange files, said Kerry Washburn, director of Administrative Applications for Information Systems and Services.

“We expect to reach a decision about whether to implement this type of application, and if so what particular package and during what time frames, in the near future,” Washburn wrote in an e-mail this week.

The GW students are among 532 computer users who were sued by the RIAA March 23 for illegally downloading and sharing music on networks such as KaZaA and Morpheus. Students could face more than $100,000 in fines if a federal court finds them guilty of file-sharing, but RIAA officials said the average settlement is $3,000.

GW received a copy of the lawsuit March 31 and informed the three students that they were facing legal action, said Schutjer, who refused to give further information about the students. She said the University is not liable for the students’ actions.

“Unfortunately for them, it’s between them and their lawyers at this point,” she said.

According to court documents, the students are accused of distributing copyrighted music in December 2003.

A record industry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the songs listed in the suit “are just a sampling of the hundreds of songs they were making available,” and that those facing legal action shared an average of 800 files.

While the current suits mainly target computer users who made their songs available through a network, people who only download files will most likely be sued in the future, the official said.

The official said the RIAA has employed investigators to track the Internet traffic of thousands of file-sharers, allowing it to launch more lawsuits in the upcoming months.

“No one is above the law,” the official said. “This is illegal activity, and there are consequences.”

In recent months, GW has warned students who download large volumes of music that their activities are illegal and violate the University’s Code of Conduct.

But, Schutjer noted, “We don’t control what the students do. They’re making a decision to use peer-to-peer file-sharing, and they’re taking that risk.”

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