On March 21, 405 students woke up ready to face the day only to find out they would also have to face a lawsuit from the Recording Industry Association of America.The recording industry sent 400 prelitigation settlement letters to 13 different universities as part of its latest salvo in its war on illegal file-sharing on college campuses, according to a press release from the RIAA.
Each notice informed the university that a lawsuit will be filed against someone using its network and gave the person an opportunity to settle out of court for less money, according to the press release. The letter requested that the university pass on the notice to the owner of the IP address.
The prelawsuit letters are part of the new initiatives being launched to discourage and stop music theft on college campuses, according to the press release.
“Frankly, we’ve found that students know that downloading from unauthorized P2P systems is illegal, but the chance of getting caught isn’t great enough to discourage them from doing it. By increasing the number of lawsuits, we’re letting them know that the risk of getting caught is greater. That’s also why we’re bringing more lawsuits on a single college campus,” said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA.
Bigger Problems, More Attention
The release has received a great deal of media attention from news agencies worldwide and is the latest update to issues raised by Sherman in his meeting with the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 26, 2006.
Sherman and Steven Marks, RIAA general counsel and executive vice president, conducted an online chat interview March 1 with college reporters across America discussing the release and the industry’s new measures.
Marks said the major difference between its previous measures and this new initiative was a sharp increase in the amount of notices being sent and lawsuits being filed, as well as the addition of the prelitigation letters.
“In the three years since we first filed suit against a university network user, we have sued about 1,000 students,” Marks said. “Under this new program, we will initiate legal action against a similar number of students in just three months.”
The Prosecution Continues
Sherman said the RIAA is planning to continue sending out about 400 prelawsuit letters every month.
Marks said the RIAA has two different ways of enforcing copyright laws.
Marks said the first consists of sending out Digital Millennium Copyright Act notices to schools. The school is then at liberty to act in accordance with its own policy. The second route is to file a lawsuit against a specific individual. A student has 20 days from the date the university receives the letter to settle out of court. If the university decides not to forward the letter, Marks said, the court will subpoena the university to provide the identity of the student.
TCU was not one of the 13 universities to receive the letters, but Marks said anyone who illegally downloads files can be sued.
“While we targeted more egregious users when we first filed lawsuits three years ago, since then everyone should be aware of what is legal and not legal,” Marks said.
The RIAA said they have tried educating college students and that these measures are a last resort.
But some students do understand that piracy is illegal and why.
“You’re taking away profit from people who worked hard to make it,” said Lauren John, a sophomore math major.
John said she thought the new initiatives may be effective because the lawsuits make it seem more serious.
Jim Mayne, director of information security services, said he wasn’t sure how the new initiatives would affect TCU’s current policy because of how recently they have been announced.
But Mayne said he was sure TCU would continue using the measures in place as well as passing on any prelitigation letters it receives to the students involved.
“We’re not trying to hide students,” Mayne said.
What Happens to Students Who Get Caught
Brooke Scogin, assistant dean of campus life, said TCU’s current policy toward piracy is based on the number of offenses the user has.
The first time a person is caught illegally sharing files, his or her Internet is shut off, and he or she must remove any copyrighted material from his or her computer, Scogin said. Then, he or she must send out a scripted e-mail to 20 peers discouraging piracy, Scogin said.
Scogin said upon a user’s second offense he or she is subject to the judicial process of the university.
She said this usually results in the student’s Internet access being cut off for the rest of the semester.
TCU’s policy appears to be working because Scogin said she hasn’t seen anyone receive a third offense.
Mayne said about 25 students have been disabled so far this semester because of copyright violations but only three or four of the 25 are repeat offenders.
Scogin said TCU’s policy gives students a chance to realize their mistakes and not have huge fines or other ramifications.
“Some students genuinely don’t know it’s wrong, and this gives them an opportunity to learn,” Scogin said.
Each school has to find what works for it and this works for TCU, Scogin said.
Mayne said the university currently takes a middle-of-the-road stance on illegal file-sharing.
“We don’t actively try to determine student activity, but we do respond to complaints,” Mayne said. “We feel obligated to respond to illegal activity.