RIAA sues student, alumnus

More than a year after they sued anonymous GW students for illegal downloading violations, representatives of the recording industry recently advanced their federal court battle by filing new suits against a senior and an alumnus.

Court documents filed by the Recording Industry Association of America allege that Richard Fowler, a 2008 graduate, and senior Heidi Mekawi illegally shared music files over peer-to-peer networks.

In fall 2007, the RIAA identified 19 GW IP addresses that they said were illegally downloading music and subpoenaed the University for the students’ names. The RIAA then dropped the lawsuit in May after receiving the information for nine students and allowing them to settle out of court.

RIAA spokeswoman Liz Kennedy said they filed suits against Fowler and Mekawi in December because they have not yet agreed to settle.

Fowler and Mekawi are being sued for both uploading and downloading music files, Kennedy said. Fowler was found to be distributing a total of 461 songs in spring 2007 through the AresWarez network, while Mekawi was found distributing 3538 files in May 2007 through the Gnutella network, according to court documents filed by the RIAA. The RIAA believes both defendants were continually using the peer-to-peer networks, court documents state.

“Anyone going onto illicit [peer-to-peer] sites like Limewire and uploading and downloading copy-written music is breaking the law and runs the chance of being caught,” Kennedy said.

Fowler and Mekawi still have the opportunity to settle their cases out of court. Kennedy stressed that the RIAA tries to be as fair and reasonable as possible, and only one out of the 30,000 lawsuits the RIAA has filed against alleged file-sharers has made it to court.

“We don’t aim to be in court with any of these cases,” Kennedy said. “I think that speaks to the validity of what we do. The idea is that we’re aiming to provide the most discounted settlement rate possible.”

Neither complaint lists requested damages because, as policy, the RIAA does not ask for a specific amount of money, Kennedy said.

When Mekawi called the RIAA’s settlement office last year, she was told settling her case at that time would cost about $4,000, Mekawi said. Settling now, though, would cost Mekawi or other defendants more because named lawsuits have been filed, Kennedy said.

Mekawi said she was out of the country for most of December when the lawsuit was filed and said she has not heard from the RIAA since last spring. She was unsure why she was singled out by the RIAA.

“I don’t know anybody that doesn’t download music,” she said.

Mekawi said she is not sure what course of action she will take in regard to the lawsuit. Fowler did not return messages seeking comment.

Eight GW students have settled with the RIAA in total, and five cases, including Fowler’s and Mekawi’s, are still pending, meaning no settlement has been reached.

While the RIAA will continue to pursue cases in the same manner, the organization announced near the end of December that it would discontinue its litigation program in favor of a form of deterrence run by Internet service providers.

In the new program, users engaging in music piracy will be notified by their Internet service provider and told to stop. The RIAA is working with the office of the New York Attorney General to implement the program, which will allow them to communicate with more consumers, RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said in December.

“Of course, we’re not looking, nor have we ever been looking, to completely eradicate piracy altogether, but with this new approach we think we’ll be able to significantly deter individuals from engaging in illegal file-sharing behavior,” she said. “Plus, we are able to reach more individuals through notices than we ever would through lawsuits.”

Ashley Roberts contributed to this report.

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