Students across the country are being targeted in the latest crackdown on illegal music downloads.
The Recording Industry Association of America, a music industry trade group, is sending out a torrent of complaints this year about illegal music sharing on college campuses.
The University has received more than four times as many complaints so far this school year than all of last year.
So far the University has received more than 400 complaints this academic year compared to 93 complaints during the 2005-2006 academic year.
The University of Michigan ranks 18th on the RIAA’s list of universities that have received the most complaints.
Purdue University received more than twice as many complaints, despite having a similar number of students living on campus.
When the University receives a complaint of illegal file sharing on its network, it sends a notice to the person responsible, asking him or her to remove the copyrighted material that generated the complaint from their computer.
If the student complies within 24 hours, no additional measures are taken against the student, though he or she is encouraged to speak with a University technical support representative.
“Somebody actually talks with them about how to avoid file-sharing,” said Jack Bernard, assistant University general counsel for the University. “We have an exceedingly low recidivism rate because of the approach we take to students.”
Bernard said that most students don’t know they are sharing illegally, which is why the University’s educational approach to the issue is successful.
“The good thing about being a University is that we have better relationships with our students than most Internet Service Providers have with their customers,” Bernard said.
He said that students caught multiple times might have their University Internet access suspended.
The University also reiterates its policies about student technology use.
In extreme cases, the RIAA can sue students for copyright infringement.
In these cases, the University receives subpoenas from the RIAA and is required to identify the student attached to the offending Internet protocol address.
“If you give us a valid subpoena, we have to comply,” Bernard said. “There’s no way around it.”
There have been about 20 civil suits filed against University students since the RIAA began filing lawsuits in 2003, he said, though the University discourages the RIAA from suing students.
It has been at least a year since the University received a subpoena, Bernard said. They usually come in waves.
“It’s a big deal,” Bernard said. “They sue you for thousands of dollars.”
When a student is subpoenaed, the University contacts him or her about the lawsuit.
University attorneys comb through the subpoena to make sure it’s valid. Even if the subpoena is invalid, the student is still informed. Bernard said invalid subpoenas are usually rewritten and resubmitted.
Once a case gets underway, though, the University sits on the sidelines.
The RIAA scans for illegal downloading with an automated program.
“It’s not a person that makes these decisions,” Bernard said. “It’s a machine that’s going around tirelessly.”
Bernard said not all file-sharing is illegal, but it is a crime to both upload and download copyrighted material without permission.
The University also tries to educate students about file sharing before infractions occur.
Each semester, the University hosts events about the dangers of file sharing.
“We try to encourage students to consider these issues from an intellectual perspective,” Bernard said. “The idea is to help students make thoughtful choices.”
Bernard emphasized that students need to learn about how to deal with file sharing issues in order to stop them.
He said threatening students with lawsuits is not a long-term solution to the problem.
Top 25 offenders
Illegal download complaints sent to universities by the RIAA
1. Ohio University – 1287
2. Purdue University – 1068
3. University of Nebraska-Lincoln – 1002
4. University of Tennessee-Knoxville – 959
5. University of South Carolina – 914
6. University of Massachusetts at Amherst – 897
7. Michigan State University – 753
8. Howard University – 572
9. North Carolina State University – 550
10. University of Wisconsin-Madison – 513
11. University of South Florida – 490
12. Syracuse University – 488
13. Northern Illinois University – 487
14. University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire – 473
15. Boston University – 470
16. Northern Michigan University – 457
17. Kent State University – 424
18. University of Michigan – 400
19. University of Texas at Austin – 371
20. North Dakota State University – 360
21. Indiana University – 353
22. Western Kentucky University – 353
23. Seton Hall University – 338
24. Arizona State University – 336
25. Marshall University – 331