RIAA no longer suing students

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January 30, 2009

12:15 AM

Twenty-five of the 27 College of William and Mary students sued by the RIAA last year have settled their cases, Liz Kennedy, a spokesperson from the RIAA said.

Of the remaining two, one student could not be identified and the other case is currently pending.

Recently, upon greater support from various internet service providers (ISPs) around the country, the RIAA decided on a new approach toward identifying students who were in violation of copyright laws.

“During this past summer, we began discussions with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who suggested that now was the time to take our practice of last resort — lawsuits — and replace that form of deterrence with productive engagement by the ISP community in the form of graduated response programs,” said Mitch Bainwol, Chairman and CEO of the RIAA.

Now that ISPs are more willing to work with the RIAA, the trade group is pursuing the creation of more effective means of cracking down on illegal music downloading and sharing. Possible tactics range from alerting suspicious users to cutting off their internet service.

“I think the RIAA’s change in strategy is a positive development,” said Jim Heller, director of the Wolf Law Library and professor of law at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law. “[RIAA’s] lawsuit campaign was pretty effective [in] letting people know that illegally downloading or sharing music could be costly. But as The Wall Street Journal noted back in December, the lawsuits were costly — not only in dollars, but in bad PR.”

Over the course of its campaign, the RIAA filed over 30,000 lawsuits, most were for a few thousand dollars.
Cases filed against students at the College were also for a few thousand dollars.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that critics of the campaign believe that the lawsuits had a very small impact in slowing the act of downloading illegal music from the internet. It also reported that the program was a public relations nightmare, with lawsuits targeting several single mothers, a deceased individual and a 13 year-old girl. One individual was sued for $222,000 over a few songs she shared over Kazaa.

However, research shows that the downloading of illegal music is a major concern for the United States economy as a whole. A study conducted in 2007 by the Institute for Policy Innovation found that global music piracy causes $12.5 billion in U.S. economic losses every year and is accountable for approximately 71,060 lost jobs in the United States.

“Students may not like hearing this, but downloading or distributing music is often infringing,” Heller said. “If you bought a CD, you may legally copy songs for your own use. But as a general matter, you can’t share those songs with others; fair use usually will not apply. Similarly, downloading songs from a [peer-to-peer] network is infringing unless the copyright owner has given his or her permission.”

A peer-to-peer (P2P) network is a computer network that connects several different computer together rather than the standard computer network in which all computers are connected to a common server.

A 2006 digital music study performed by NPD Research showed that college students, who make up only 10 percent of total U.S. internet users, comprise a disproportinate 28 percent of the P2P-using population.

“I’m not a big fan of the RIAA, but I think they are taking the right step here,” Heller said. “Although lawsuits made people more aware of the consequences of illegally downloading or sharing music, the lawsuits didn’t stop teenagers and college students from doing that. Most young people think that they are immune from bad things happening to them, including being sued for infringement.”

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