RIAA targets university students

Recording industry launches antipiracy effort

The Recording industry launched an antipiracy-educational initiative aimed at university students that includes a chance for a “discounted” settlement and no record being kept of the illegal downloading or file-sharing.

Citing a recent survey that showed some 50% of students continue to download or swap illegally, Recording Industry Assn. of America officials said Wednesday they had sent 400 “pre-litigation settlement letters” to students at 13 universities.

Previously, the RIAA has first filed suit after identifying a screen name and computer address, then sought ought the owner of the screen name.

But now, the org is going first to the alleged infringer by contacting the school and asking for the letter to be forwarded to the relevant student. The letter proposes a “substantially discounted” settlement and a promise of no lawsuit and no record if the student responds cooperatively within 20 days.

RIAA officials would not disclose what the discounted settlement would be, nor would they confirm what the average settlement has been to date. Press reports and attorneys involved with the cases have put the average figure around $4,000.

RIAA topper Mitch Bainwol noted that since the org began filing illegal downloading suits in 2003, only 1,000 students have been among the roughly 15,000 defendants. He said he expects the number to rise to 5,000 this year. “Because that’s where the most illegal downloading is happening,” he said.

The schools receiving this first round of letters: Arizona State U.; Marshall; North Carolina State; North Dakota State; Northern Illinois; Ohio U.; Syracuse; U. of Massachusetts, Amherst; U. of Nebraska, Lincoln; U. of South Florida; USC; U. of Tennessee, Knoxville; and U. of Texas, Austin.

RIAA promised “hundreds of similar enforcement actions against university network users each month,” according to a statement.

“I am always amused when the RIAA says it is going to educate,” responded attorney Ray Beckerman, who has represented defendants in illegal downloading suits. “It is the RIAA that needs education, especially in the fields of (a) copyright law, (b) morality, (c) business administration, and (d) common courtesy. Anyone who takes their lessons on any of these subjects from the RIAA is going to be seriously misled. I hope the universities will see through this obvious ploy to increase the RIAA’s stream of easy settlement revenue, and will assist their students in finding out what their true legal rights are.”