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Record companies sue student

BY KATHERINE MITCHELL
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 10, 2007

Three music companies are suing a University student for allegedly illegally sharing music.

LSA sophomore Sarah Oyetubo was sued by Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Bros. Records and BMG Music in federal district court last week for allegedly sharing music using the LimeWire program over the peer-to-peer sharing service Gnutella.

The Recording Industry of Association of America tagged her IP address on March 20 for sharing 182 audio files, including songs like "Black Or White" and "Thriller" by Michael Jackson, "Material Girl" by Madonna, "Hero" by Mariah Carey and "A Woman's Worth" by Alicia Keys.

Oyetubo declined to comment, saying her lawyer advised her not to speak to the press.

Oyetubo's IP address was initially targeted in a "John Doe" lawsuit filed in April by Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Bros. Records and BMG Music - three RIAA-member companies. RIAA companies use these suits to file against IP addresses before network users are identified by name. The University provided Oyetubo's name and contact information after the RIAA issued a subpoena in May asking for the owners of 12 IP addresses allegedly caught sharing files illegally.

The Ann Arbor law firm of Soble Rowe Krichbaum is representing the record companies in the case.

The University is not involved in the lawsuits except to comply with any subpoena issued for a network user's name and contact information.

"They have what they need from us already," said Jack Bernard, the University's assistant general counsel. "It's unlikely that we'd be involved again."

Bernard said the University is not told which students are sued once the University turns over the information. He said yesterday that he didn't know who had been sued.

Oyetubo did not settle with the RIAA after receiving a pre-litigation letter or notice of a subpoena. The University, unlike some peer institutions, passes those notices to students after receiving them, giving students time to settle with record companies before they file suit.

Students are able to settle with the RIAA-member companies in the 30 days between when the subpoena is issued to the University and when the University responds to the RIAA with contact information.

Bernard said some students didn't settle with record companies or that they chose to ignore the pre-litigation notices when they were sent in April, though.

"Students are entitled to fight," he said. "You don't have to settle,"

In March, Paul Howell, the University's chief technology security officer, told faculty members in an e-mail that students usually settle suits with RIAA for anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000.

Federal law provides for penalties of between $750 and $150,000.

In April, the RIAA issued 23 pre-litigation settlement letters, giving network users with flagged IP addresses the opportunity to settle with the RIAA's companies before a lawsuit was filed.

Because the record companies only issued subpoenas for 12 users, as many as 11 users could have settled within the next month.

Bernard said he expects to see more notices and lawsuits this year, although no new per-litigation settlement letters or subpoenas have been issued to the University since May.

Bernard said the RIAA sometimes issues a subpoena for the user of an IP address for which the University no longer has a record. The University couldn't identify user of at least one of the IP addresses included in the RIAA's subpoena, he said.