The Recording Industry Association of America has revealed a new tactic in its war against illegal file sharing aimed at those using peer-to-peer software on college campuses – and two UCSB students have already being targeted.
The new two-step strategy, which pressures campuses to police their networks more carefully, can potentially lead to a lawsuit. Once the RIAA discovers a student has engaged in illegal file sharing, it sends the university a “preservation notice” urging the school to locate and save all information related to the case. So far UCSB has received two preservation notices for students.
At a later date, the RIAA may choose to send students in violation, via the university, a “pre-litigation letter” that informs the student of an impending lawsuit if they do not choose to pay a RIAA-determined settlement within 20 days. The RIAA also asks the schools to turn over identifying data on the student for use in the lawsuit; schools that refuse will be served with a subpoena for the information if the lawsuit goes forward.
Previously, the RIAA treated colleges and universities like any other Internet Service Provider under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which required an ISP to terminate the service of any user who received a valid copyright-infringement complaint. These cases did not lead to lawsuits. The new campaign will target about 400 college students per month using such peer-to-peer downloading services as LimeWire and Ares Galaxy on school-run networks. DC++ and BitTorrent, two other popular file sharing programs, do not appear to be under scrutiny at this time.
According to an RIAA press release, a survey by the Intellectual Property Institute at the University of Richmond’s School of Law found that over 50 percent of college students admit to illegally downloading music and movies. The press release cites data from market research firm NPD, which shows that college students download 25 percent of their music illegally, compared with 16 percent of the general population.
UCSB Office of Information Technology technician and DMCA agent Kevin Schmidt said the university will forward preservation notices and pre-litigation letters to students.
“We will, as a matter of routine, forward these notices to the students,” Schmidt said. “If we don’t forward the letters, the student doesn’t have the option to make an informed decision about the situation.”
Many colleges and universities balk at the idea of serving as a middleman for the RIAA. The University of Wisconsin system has refused to turn over student information to the RIAA, as have MIT and Boston College, which have successfully had their subpoenas overturned on a legal technicality.
Schmidt said UCSB will not reveal any student information to the RIAA unless a subpoena is served.
“There is no planned communication to the RIAA or its attorneys on this matter,” Schmidt said. “Frankly, we will wait for a subpoena. Until then, there is nothing that compels the university to reveal student information.”
It is unclear how strongly this new offensive will affect UCSB students, who are subject to such suits only in the residence halls and when accessing on-campus wireless hotspots like the library and the UCen.
Meanwhile, students on ResNet are generally prevented from using such programs as LimeWire and Ares by administrators who monitor the bandwidth of transfers going off campus, and limit them to render the services essentially unusable, though workarounds to this problem exist.
With only two preservation notices issued and no pre-litigation letters, Schmidt said UCSB has received very limited attention from the RIAA compared to other UC campuses and colleges nationwide. And because the announced target of the lawsuits is users of online p2p services like LimeWire and Ares, it is unclear if the RIAA will file lawsuits involving intra-network file sharing with programs like DC++ at UCSB, though it is unlikely as that system operates exclusively on campus.
Official university policy prohibits illegal activity on university networks or computers. The housing contract for students living on campus states that violation of that policy will result in a student being disconnected from the university network; users of the university’s wireless network agree to a similar clause.
A standard UC system cover letter sent to students along with their pre-litigation letter emphasizes that the University remains neutral on the issue of the lawsuits, stating that “the University of California has made no determination that you have engaged in copyright infringement.”
Ben Price, manager of residential network services, said that despite requests by the recording industry, the university does not police student activity unless forced to do so by a DMCA complaint, and that students served with preservation notices and pre-litigation letters will not face consequences on the university level.
“The industry would like us to investigate this on our own,” Price said. “But that is not something we want to get involved with.”
The recording industry has made efforts to encourage legal downloading, including educational websites like campusdownloading.com. Some schools, including UC Berkeley, put students through anti-piracy orientation programs.
There are also a number of legal services like Ruckus, which offer free streaming music and limited downloading. Some schools have even contracted with these services to provide free music to all users on their network.
According to Schmidt and Price, UCSB opted out of such a program because of the difficulty of selecting a service and the low participation rates seen on other campuses.
First-year computer science major Vince Garcia said the possibility of a lawsuit will not deter students from downloading.
“Everyone has heard about people getting sued for downloading,” Garcia said. “But the chances of that happening to any one person are pretty slim.”