GW ordered to reveal illegal downloaders

Several record companies filed a lawsuit seeking the identities of 19 GW students who allegedly violated copyright laws.

An initial complaint was filed in federal court on Sept. 27 by 10 record companies who want retribution for illegally downloaded music. On Oct. 11, the court approved a motion ordering GW to reveal the names, addresses, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of the students.

Official subpoenas have not yet been approved, but GW is required to comply with the motion, said Cara Duckworth, a spokesperson for the Recording Industry Association of America.

The decision is part of a nationwide push by the recording industry to hold people – especially students – accountable for illegally downloading music. The RIAA sent pre-litigation notices to the University this fall – requesting they be forwarded on to students – but the latest move represents a step forward in the case. “Schools are required to comply when a subpoena has been affirmatively approved by the court,” Duckworth wrote in an e-mail.

The University was unavailable for comment.

The lawsuit goes into great detail about the alleged crimes, listing the names of specific songs and albums downloaded off the Internet. Most of the songs were downloaded off of Peer-to-Peer networks – especially Gnutella – and BitTorrent. One user allegedly downloaded 3,538 songs illegally, though most of the violations involved illegal downloads of less than 500 songs.

There are several steps taken when the RIAA discovers IP addresses that are downloading files illegally, Duckworth said.

First, they send pre-litigation letters with an IP address to the school, attempting to settle with the students at a discounted rate.

If the students do not contact the RIAA to settle in a certain period of time, the RIAA files a lawsuit against the anonymous students and seeks to subpoena the schools’ records.

If the court approves the subpoena, it is typically served to the school’s general counsel.

Each time the user fails to contact the RIAA, the fines increase. Duckworth said the fines are still much lower than copyright law allows.

She said that usually when students do not settle after the pre-litigation letters, it means the University did not appropriately pass them on.

“(G)enerally when 19 (anonymous) suits are filed on the heels of 19 letters, it’s an indication that a school may not be forwarding these letters to the appropriate network users,” Duckworth said. “In this situation, it is a disservice to the student not to do so – actively depriving them of the opportunity to settle the matter early on by paying a lower fee and allowing them to avoid a potential lawsuit.”

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