RIAA takes on college piracy

'Speed and egregiousness' of criminals causes action

The Recording Industry Assn. of America turned up the heat on college music pirates, filing suit against four students who used on-campus networks to run Napster-like services. The record labels’ trade org claims the systems were distributing millions of copies of copyrighted songs.

The systems all used centralized peer-to-peer network software similar to Napster, with names such as Flatlan, Phynd and Direct Connect. Suits were filed against the operators of systems at Rensselaer Polytechnic U., Princeton and Michigan Technological U. Two of the four suits were filed for different networks operated on Rensselaer’s computers.

“This is a particularly flagrant way to illegally distribute millions of copyrighted works over the Internet,” said RIAA prexy Cary Sherman. “The people who run these Napster networks know full well what they’re doing: operating a sophisticated network designed to enable widespread music thievery. The lawsuits we’ve filed represent an appropriate step given the seriousness of the offense.”

The RIAA has repeatedly contacted dozens of universities around the country, urging them to shut down pirate operations run through their on-campus networks and to discipline heavy users of such systems. The RIAA even co-founded the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities to push its antipiracy efforts on campuses.

Until now, however, the org had chosen to leave actual enforcement to the schools themselves. The U.S. Naval Academy announced it would discipline, and possibly expel, a number of midshipmen for stowing pirated songs on Academy-issued laptop computers; Penn State U. and many other schools also have cracked down on the busiest file-sharers on their networks at the RIAA’s request.

Sherman called the P2P networks “local-area Napster networks” whose operators offered as many as 1 million pirated songs for trading through their systems. The systems were big enough to draw off-campus users seeking free music.

Sherman said the lawsuits were necessary because of “the alarming speed and egregiousness” of the pirate networks. The organization was sending “a loud and clear message that this kind of activity is illegal and has consequences,” he added.

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