Thirteen UCSB students using file-sharing networks on campus are now facing potential lawsuits in a rejuvenated effort by the music industry to crackdown on piracy.
Earlier this month, the Recording Industry Association of America notified 22 universities of illegal downloading activities on their campus networks. According to a Sept. 20 press release, 13 of the total 403 pre-litigation settlement letters were sent to UCSB. While the RIAA has yet to identify the specific individuals responsible, the letters advise university officials to locate and refer the suspects to the Association’s settlement Web site.
The Association became aware of the alleged activities by monitoring file sharing programs such as Limewire, Morpheus and BearShare, which log IP addresses whenever downloads occur. By researching an IP address – sometimes referred to as a computer’s phone number – the RIAA can determine from which network an illegal download was derived. Additionally, with a court order, the RIAA can demand a user’s identity from a network provider such as the university.
UCSB Digital Millennium Copyright Act Agent and Campus Network Programmer Kevin Schmidt said the new method of informing students of piracy is a clever tactic on RIAA’s behalf, which effectively serves to limit the university’s options.
“The early settlement offer is really an ingenious approach,” Schmidt said. “If the [University of California] does not forward the letter, students lose control of whether or not they want to settle before they can be taken to court.”
Schmidt said pre-litigation letters allot 20 days for recipients to take a settlement ranging from $3,500 to $4,000 for their alleged offenses. Settlements are handled online at http://www.p2plawsuits.com. The site accepts payment by major credit cards or checks.
Once a pre-litigation letter is sent, the campus DMCA agent advises the student that they may file counter-notice, which would dispute the piracy claims.
Prior to the new pre-litigation action by the RIAA, all piracy activity on campus functioned under the DMCA framework – the university disciplined students through a “strike system.” In this approach, students were notified that they were caught committing piracy on the university network and were then suspended from using it for up to 30 days. A second or third offense would result in more stringent punishment.
Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the RIAA Steven Marks stated in a press release that students who choose not to follow copyright laws will receive punishment to the fullest extent of the law.
“Those who choose to ignore the law by acquiring music the wrong way risk a federal lawsuit that could include thousands of dollars in penalties,” Marks said. “With so many simple, easy and inexpensive ways to enjoy music legally these days, there’s no excuse.”
In addition to the new round of pre-litigation letters, the RIAA has also filed 24 new copyright infringement lawsuits against previous recipients of letters who have ignored settlement opportunities. The lawsuits were filed in federal court against students from UC Santa Cruz, North Carolina State University, Kent State University, Ohio University and several others.
Zebulon Siegel, a UCSB third year biology major, said he was confused by the RIAA’s strategy, which he said seems to focus arbitrarily on a small number of institutions.
“I think it’s not right that only 22 universities in the US are being targeted with piracy claims by the RIAA,” Siegel said. “Piracy occurs on all campuses and it’s unfair to single out a specific university.”