It is rare for College students to be sued by large, national organizations.
p. It’s a situation, however, in which 12 students currently find themselves, as part of the third wave of the Recording Industry Association of America’s new campaign to target the illegal downloading of music on college campuses.
p. “I think it’s kind of ridiculous that we’re given 20 days to gather this much money,” junior Mac Garber said. Garber received a warning letter and has forgone his anonymity in order to speak with The Flat Hat. “Most college students don’t have that type of cash lying around — it’s like they expect us to have to go borrow all of the money. It’s completely unreasonable.”
p. The College received 12 letters on April 12, alerting the administration of a pending lawsuit against members of the student body. The letters mention no names, only the IP addresses of the offending users computers.
p. The school, which holds that information, forwarded the dispatches to the appropriate students.
p. The letters represent a final offer for students to settle with the record companies before any action is taken to formally file a civil suit in court.
p. “Frankly, we’ve found that students know that downloading from unauthorized P2P systems is illegal,” RIAA President Cary Sherman wrote in an internet discussion with university journalists from across the country. “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.”
p. The new campaign, which has now resulted in 1,218 letters sent to students from 68 different universities, focuses on mailing large numbers of letters to specific schools in order to send a concentrated message of warning to the entire student body.
If students refuse to settle, the next step is for the RIAA to subpoena the various schools in order to ascertain a user’s identity.
p. The College is only the second Virginia state school, after Virginia Tech, to be targeted by the RIAA’s new strategy.
p. The reason for this newfound focus on college campuses stems from the belief that a disproportionate number of college students download music illegally — the RIAA’s website cites a Student Monitor study finding that more than half of all college students are guilty of copyright infringement regarding music and movies.
The campaign also marks a shift in regards to targets for the RIAA. While the organization has focused its efforts on the most grievous offenders in the past, they now seem committed to take legal actions against offenders regardless of the scope of their transgression.
p. “I couldn’t believe it,” Garber said. “I mean, I know so many people that download so much more music than me. I thought that I’d need at least 1,000 songs for anyone to notice me.”
Garber’s letter mentions 370 songs that the record companies believe to be downloaded illegally on his computer.
p. The RIAA strongly recommends that students consider the settlement, heralding the pre-lawsuit settlements as being far discounted from later settlements and decisions.
p. The punishments levied by the courts, should a student be tried in court and found guilty, would be between $750 and $150,000 per work copied. While the amount of money asked for by the RIAA in these initial settlements is usually kept private, Garber has confirmed that his letter asks for $3,000 in order to prevent further litigation.
p. Responding to charges that the RIAA is drawing confessions from students who are not well-versed in the law, all the while saving costs on legal fees, RIAA General Counsel and Executive Vice President Steven Marks wrote, “We have heard from a number of defendants that they wished to have the option of settling before a lawsuit was filed … Settlements are completely voluntary, so a student can turn down our offer to settle before filing a suit in order to have his day in court if he wishes.”
p. The RIAA has already declared the program a huge success. Of the first 805 letters sent out, 328 students have decided to settle.
p. Executives of the various recording companies are quick to stress that they are not against the downloading of music, and that they merely want to point students toward more legal means of accessing music.
p. One of the RIAA’s favorite programs to publicize as the next wave of music enjoyment is Ruckus.
p. The Herndon, Virginia-based firm offers free downloads to all college students, using advertisement revenue to cover the necessary royalty payments. While the program certainly seems promising, it still has its faults, as the files have encryptions that don’t allow them to be played on iTunes or iPods
Downloading is still popular among many college students, however, and the lawsuits will likely continue.
p. “Honestly, I don’t think that it’s really affected my friends that much,” Garber said. “Some of them have stopped for the time being, but mostly people aren’t really fazed.”
p. Casting the issue in terms of the effect that the illegal downloading of music could have on artists, Sherman remarked: “I’d hate to think that the next Red Hot Chili Peppers has to go back to waiting tables because they can’t make a career in music.”