Lawsuits target Univ. students

Melissa Weigel

Several Villanova students were among 89 individuals named in a suit field by the Recording Industry Association of America. On March 23, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) issued a press release in which they stated that they had filed a lawsuit against 532 individual computer users who were illegally sharing copyrighted music. Included in these 532 file sharers were 89 individuals using 21 different university networks, including several file sharers at Villanova University.

The individual file-sharers were targeted based on “the egregiousness of their infringing activity,” RIAA president Cary Sherman said. “The greater the number of copyrighted music files offered for others to copy, the greater the likelihood you will be a target of litigation.” The average number of files shared by the litigants in this lawsuit is 837.

The RIAA filed the lawsuits using “John Doe” litigation, in which defendants are sued without their actual names being known. The courts must then grant the RIAA permission to subpoena Internet Service Providers (in this case the University) in order to find out the name of the owner of the computer because the IP address of the computer is the only identification publicly available.

The University receives “takedown” notices from the RIAA on a regular basis, which name the IP addresses of the users who are illegally sharing a large number of files. The RIAA informs the University (who knows the names of the students with the corresponding IP addresses) that it must notify the student to stop sharing, essentially giving him/her a cease-and-desist order.

Once UNIT receives this notification, it not only looks up the IP address and sends a letter to the student, it also gives information on how to stop sharing.

“We’ve been doing this since last year,” Matt Morrissey, the manager of Software Support Services at UNIT said.

“This year, the RIAA changed its tactics. It’s now targeting specific users and is now sending subpoenas to the University rather than simply notices.”

Students in the lawsuits may not necessarily have received a takedown notice already.

Earlier in the year in a lawsuit brought by Verizon, the court ruled that the RIAA must sue to obtain the names of the computer owners. Verizon did not feel it was responsible for what the users of their ISP did; they were simply a conduit. This changed the University’s stance, which before was to comply with the RIAA. Now, the University waits for a subpoena to be issued before releasing the student’s name. Most universities now take the stance that they are simply ISPs and are not responsible for what the students do over their networks.

“Ultimately, the University’s stance has always been to comply with the law,” Morrissey said.

Illegally sharing copyrighted materials over the network is in violation of both the University’s network policy and its academic policy. In order to participate in the University’s network, students must sign an agreement in which they acknowledge that they cannot inappropriately use copyrighted materials.

The University’s policy on Ethical Conduct for Use of Computing and Communication Resources states, “violation of federal, state or local laws, including copyright infringement, [violates] permissible use of technological resources.”

According to an RIAA press release, “The record companies plan to send letters to identified individuals offering to settle with them before litigation continues any further. If an illegal file sharer rejects the settlement overture, the record companies will proceed with litigation against that individual.”

Since 2000, there has been a 31 percent decrease in CD sales, which many attribute to the simplicity of downloading songs and burning CDs.

Freshman Brittany Thompson said, “I can understand why the music people get upset about people downloading music because they get ripped off of the extra profit, but I usually just want one song off an album or something, and I don’t want to spend 15 dollars for the one song I like on the CD.”

“We’ve seen a marked decline in illegal file-sharing [since the lawsuits began], a marked increase in business at the legitimate online music services, and a spike in CD sales as well,” Sherman said. ” Frankly, the program has been more successful than most people would have predicted. But most important, we have precipitated a national conversation about the impact of illegal downloading, which wasn’t occurring before.”

The RIAA’s 350-plus member companies are responsible for creating, manufacturing, or distributing 90 percent of all legitimate sound recordings in the United States. Since its first lawsuits were filed on Sept. 7, more than 400 cases have been settled. However, none has gone to trial yet. The average settlement has been about $3,000.