There are a lot of things you could do with $3,000. You could pay rent for a semester or two. You could buy a lifetime supply of Insomnia cookies. But the last thing you’d want to do is settle a lawsuit. At least this is less of a worry now that the Recording Industry Association of America has announced it’s finished going after individuals for their Internet file-sharing. And while it should never have taken so long for the RIAA to abandon this awful practice, the policy change is good news for students, who bore the financial brunt of the RIAA’s lawsuit campaign.

Since 2003, the RIAA has been targeting users who illegally download music with lawsuits, and it’s favorite target was busy college students. The lawsuits typically increased right before finals so that students would be less likely to spend the time and effort needed to take the RIAA to court. Because dealing with a calculus final and an attorney in the same week isn’t exactly ideal, most students chose to settle out of court with the RIAA for about $3,000 per case.

The RIAA has admitted to specifically targeting college students because more than half of students file-share. But it’s easy to see that another good reason is that going after people without the time or resources to fight back is the easiest way to make a quick buck. More than 60 University of Michigan students had to hand over their cash.

But just last month, the RIAA decided on a new strategy that would move away from handling individual cases itself, instead relying on Internet service providers to enforce rules against illegal file-sharing. Under this policy, if your provider finds you engaging in illegal downloading, the RIAA will be notified, you’ll be warned and then your Internet may be slowed or stopped.

While this new strategy is a more reasonable way of handling illegal downloading, it’s puzzling that it took the RIAA five years to realize its method was flawed. It’s also quite clear that its motivation was probably not compassion for the prosecuted individuals, but rather the storm of bad press the RIAA received for targeting individuals like young people, a poor single mom and a dead person. Hopefully, with the new policy in place, the RIAA will concentrate its efforts against more serious file-sharing threats.

Just because the penalties have lessened doesn’t mean students should increase their illegal downloading. Downloading copyrighted music without paying for it is still illegal, and that’s because of an important need to defend the intellectual property rights of the artists who created these songs. The new policy does, however, represent a fairer way of addressing students’ illegal actions.

And the RIAA certainly isn’t off the hook. While relying on ISPs to track activity is a much more responsible solution for dealing with illegal downloading, it has been made clear that this policy could be amended for the RIAA to once again file lawsuits against anyone it wishes. But with any hope, college students have written their last big check to the RIAA.

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