As colleges and universities across the country decide whether
to release the names of students accused of illegal file-sharing,
the top record industry executive defended the decision to subpoena
the students, saying the business is being “downloaded to
death.”

Last night, during an online press conference, the president of
the Recording Industry Association of America spoke to members of
the collegiate press about the organization’s campaign
against the downloading and uploading of copyrighted music.

“We felt we could not stand by and watch while an entire
industry — the most vibrant music industry in the world
— was being downloaded to death,” RIAA President Cary
Sherman said.

RIAA announced Tuesday that it will subpoena 21 colleges and
universities for the names of 89 students suspected of sharing
music files illegally. The group has ordered Internet service
providers to release the names of 532 Internet users
nationwide.

Administration officials estimate that RIAA will subpoena the
names of a number of students from the University. The University
has received nine notices of intent to subpoena the names of
students.

The University has notified the students who may face legal
action.

For months, RIAA has filed lawsuits against file-sharers,
settling more than 400 cases, and has seen a decline in illegal
file-sharing and an increase in other file-sharing options that
charge for their services. Programs like iTunes charge 99 cents for
each song, and Wal-Mart recently unveiled an online service
charging 88 cents per song.

But record sales have consistently declined despite RIAA’s
legal activity. Over the past three years, Sherman said, sales have
declined by one-third. In 2000, the top 10 albums on
Billboard’s list sold 60 million units, but in 2001 that
number decreased to 40 million. In 2002, it fell to 34 million.
Record stores near college campuses have been hit especially hard,
Sherman said.

Economics Prof. Stan Liebowitz of the University of Texas has
researched file-sharing and the recording industry and drawn some
causal links between music piracy and declining CD sales. Liebowitz
said lawsuits should not be used to stop file-sharing, which he
says will not stop people from downloading. He is in favor of other
solutions, like digital rights management — the technology
that prevents individuals from copying CDs.

Students at the University have had a variety of experiences
with sharing files online. While some students have never shared,
others share often.

“I guess I don’t understand how they could find out
whether you do or not,” Art and Design sophomore Jeff Sanchez
said. “But it hasn’t stopped me.”

Students like Sanchez who have continued to download and upload
files despite the lawsuits. LSA freshman Susan Gilliam downloads
music “all the time” and still shares files, although
she plans to stop. Most file-sharing programs allow users to
disable to uploading of files.

RIAA cites that most of the downloaded files derive from the
Billboard 200 — the nation’s most popular songs. But
both Sanchez and Gilliam download songs from disparate genres, old
and new, popular and underground. “When I hear of a name
— and I’ve never heard of it before — then
I’ll just download their music,” Gilliam said.

Others students have curbed their downloading for numerous
reasons, and not always because of the recent lawsuits. LSA senior
Mark Bonges downloaded an average of two songs each day during his
freshman year, but his activity has since waned. Programs like
Kazaa can often cause computing problems, frustrating users enough
to delete the programs.

Even if the lawsuits fail to stop pirated music online, RIAA
hopes to precipitate a discussion on file-sharing.

“Now they are far more likely to at least think about the
impact of their actions,” Sherman said.

If administration officials find the subpoenas legally viable,
they will release the names of the students. Those students would
then face a lawsuit by RIAA. Most cases are settled out of court,
with settlements averaging $3,000, RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy
said.

But copyright law allows “statutory damages” ranging
from $750 to $150,000 per downloaded song, Sherman said. The
severity of sharing can increase the settlement. The 532 users
subpoenaed shared an average of 837 songs per person.

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