The recording industry has started to targeting college students in an effort to discourage peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted music.
So far, the Record Industry Association of America has sued four individuals – all of whom were college students who hosted sites that allowed users to download copyrighted material.
There was no prior warning given to any of the students before they were each sued for up to $150,000 per file, RIAA Deputy Director of Communications Amanda Collins said.
“These lawsuits were intended to send a message that this is illegal. There are real consequences when you ensue in these activities. You have to realize that you shouldn’t expect warnings – there were no warnings given to those operators,” Collins said.
University Attorney Jack Bernard said that before, the RIAA had only targeted large services like Napster.
Bernard said the difficulty of tracking users on peer to peer services like Kazaa have made it difficult for them to file suit against newer services, causing them to go after individuals.
Despite drastic action taken in the form of these lawsuits some students still continue to illegally download copyrighted material.
Michigan State junior Phil Hong said he started a website where people can illegally download copyrighted Korean music.
“I’ve never gotten in trouble, never gotten any warnings. I see it in this way; in America it is hard to get Korean music (at stores). So I do it so people can listen to Korean music,” Hong said.
Hong said that hearing about the lawsuits does not change his activity on his website. He said the chances of getting caught are still very slim and he does not see it as a threat.
The opinion that these lawsuits still do not directly affect students was echoed by Engineering junior Michael Vitek who also manages his own music site. He said getting caught is still not the norm.
“I’ve heard talk of people getting in trouble. I’m sure it would deter some people. But while it’s just a threat its not as much of a deterrent,” Vitek said.
“It’s not like you see kids in the dorm getting dragged away for copyright infringement. If people saw that then yeah, it would make a difference, but there are not enough people exposed to it,” he added.
Still, Bernard said it is not the penalties that he hopes will deter students from illegally downloading material, but the University’s educational services on the correct use of its resources.
“We have educational campaigns and work with students in residence halls as well as having symposiums about these issues,” Bernard said.
“We also try to educate when we respond to students, when we interact with students who have been accused,” he added.
He also said he finds it very unfortunate that the RIAA felt it had to go to the extreme of filing lawsuits against college students.
“Those of us who think about these issues are sorry it came to this. Colleges and universities are doing quite a bit to respond to copyright infringements. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides protections for Internet service providers,” Bernard said.
He added that if somebody has a complaint about a University student downloading their copyrighted material, they should use the process outlined by the act.
Bernard said the copyright holder should make a complaint to a compliance officer at the University, who will forward it to the user advocates office.
The office will then send a message to the person distributing the copyrighted material, who can decide to remove it.
If the user insists he has a right to distribute the material, then the two parties can settle the issue through legal means.
He added that the University has not created new policies because of these lawsuits, but has continued to enforce its old policies and laws.
“I’m against the lawsuits. If you are a musician you should do it for the love of music. I understand you need money but no artist goes poor because someone downloads their stuff,” Vitek said.