Student speaks out on case against the RIAA

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February 24, 2009

12:37 AM

Martin Feeney ’09 was one of the 29 College of William and Mary students sued last year by the Recording Industry Association of America for downloading music illegally.

He ended up paying $4,000 to settle the suit.

“The first program I ever used was Kazaa,” Feeney said when asked about how he learned about peer-to-peer software. “I must have been a sophomore in high school — I remember when I they all came out. It was pretty much the time when mp3 players first hit the market. When I first started, no one said you couldn’t use it. It was the way that everyone got their music.”

Feeney was in for bad luck years later when the RIAA cracked down on downloading music illegally on college campuses. He received a notice from the RIAA, even though his identity was never revealed to the industry.

“In December of 2007, my laptop was destroyed when beer was spilled on it and my iPod was stolen from my on-campus housing,” Feeney said. “I was being sued for music files that I did not even have in my possession. To make it worse, the letter from the RIAA was dated Jan. 9, 2008, and it stated that ‘If you do not resolve our claims against you within 20 calendar days from the date of this letter, then we will file suit against you in federal court.’”

Feeney called the number on the letter on the same day that he received it.

“I talked to an operator, and it was made clear that the 20 days to pay my settlement were already up. It was 2 or 3 p.m. and they closed at 8 p.m., so I had four hours to pay.”

The price to settle would have been $3,000. Missing the deadline brought the price up to $4,000.

“It’s highway robbery,” Feeney said. “They don’t give you an option. You can settle, or they’re going to sue you.”

While Feeney had no further conversations with the RIAA, he said the person on the phone was nice. However, his dad was furious when he told him the news over the phone. Feeney’s parents felt the $4,000 could have better gone toward tuitions and books.

“How happy would your parents be if you said you needed $4,000 dollars to settle for downloading music?” Feeney asked. “That money was my Christmas and birthday presents for the rest of my life.”

The RIAA has since ended its strategy of suing students, according to the Wall Street Journal. The trade group plans to work with internet-service providers directly, sending e-mails to to the provider when it finds a provider’s customers making music available online for others to take.

Feeney said he never shared songs on peer-to-peer sites and that he had no idea how to. He maintained that the idea of making money from the music never crossed his mind. “I had no intention — whatsoever — of making any profit off of music I had downloaded. That’s one of the reasons I thought that the fact that I was being charged with illegally distributing music was ridiculous.”

Feeney strongly recommended people who currently use peer-to-peer software to stop.

“At 99 cents a song, $3,000 is 3,000 songs using a program like iTunes,” he said. “To this day, I have not replaced my iPod, nor used any kind of p2p program. I use Pandora and YouTube to listen to music while I am at a computer.”

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