Student prepares to fight RIAA

Sherry is not a crazy downloader. She said she was “not one of those kids who downloaded 10,000 songs.”

But Sherry is now being targeted by the Recording Industry of Association of America for illegally downloading music. And as a full-time college student with two jobs, she is individually butting heads with an entertainment industry giant.

The Hatchet has changed the student’s name because the RIAA is trying to force the University to reveal her identity. She spoke to The Hatchet on the condition of anonymity due to the pending legal proceedings.

Sherry said she downloaded eight songs, and in late-October she learned the RIAA was targeting her for copyright infringement.

Now her case has become the crux of a legal battle being monitored by experts across the country. The RIAA has subpoenaed the University to learn the names of the 19 anonymous GW students targeted in the suit – using their IP addresses.

Four of those students have agreed to outside settlements, according to court documents. Sherry is fighting the industry’s methods alone in federal court. What has become a drawn out legal battle began, she said, when GW’s legal team informed her of the suit.

“No one really gave me information, which was very discouraging,” she said. “The general counsel told me who was suing me, but they couldn’t give me any legal advice. They told me to call the hotline the RIAA had set up.”

When she called the hotline, they said she needed her IP address to asses the damages being sought – something she did not have. She was encouraged to settle out of court for about $4,000, or risk paying more after a trial.

“I’m furious about it,” she said. “I do buy CDs when I go to concerts, and I do support the artists. It’s very discouraging. I’m a college student. I already work two jobs and take classes, and buying music sucks because it’s expensive. Music should be something everyone can enjoy.”

She is being sued because she made eight songs available to the public on the file-sharing site Limewire. She claims that it is not reasonable to sue a person when it is other people who downloaded their music.

Cara Duckworth, a spokesperson for the RIAA, said her organization tries to sympathize with students, but lawsuits are necessary because students contribute a disproportionate amount to the illegal downloading problem.

“When it comes down to it, of all the resources we’ve looked at, we’ve noticed that there is a disproportionate share of illegal sharing on college networks,” Duckworth said. “This is not a step we took lightly, to bring law suits against students was not our first preference.”

The students who settle do so because they know they have broken the law, she added.

“I think that because . we do have clear and persuasive evidence that the individual did engage in illegal music trafficking, then people are willing to settle because they realize the liability, they realize they did do this, and they want to get it off their plate,” Duckworth said.

Stephen Roberston, Sherry’s attorney, said the music industry is targeting college students unfairly, and their limited resources force them to settle the case. Unlike other cases where defendants band together, Sherry is fighting the case alone – though she lacks the financial resources to do so.

“(College students) don’t have time or the effort or enough money to seek counsel and to endure the very very huge expense it takes to defend a case in federal court,” Robertson said. “I can tell you that this has been a huge burden and a financial drain on our firm, but we’re not always in this for the money.”

He added that his client, and his firm, continue to fight and lose money against the industry because of the principle.

“You have to want to fight the fight for reasons of principle, which I know is one of the motivating forces for my client,” he said. “She knows this is just wrong. She thinks this whole approach is wrong.”

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