News

Students under fire from RIAA

?Everyone does it ? very few get caught,? said one of up to 40 Carnegie Mellon students who are being targeted by letters of intent to subpoena from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). These students may be forced to face the music and pay thousands of dollars in fines if a subpoena finds its way into their campus mailboxes.
The quoted student, who wishes to remain anonymous for legal reasons, has consulted a lawyer in anticipation of the possible subpoena. However, there is a possibility he might not even need an attorney?s services.
?We don?t know if any or all subpoenas will be served,? said Joel Smith, chief information officer for Computing Services. Smith said the University forwarded the notice to give students a chance to explore their legal options. Also, no student who received the pre-subpoena notice has been disciplined by the University. Carnegie Mellon?s response to copyright infringement is generous compared to other Internet service providers, said Smith. ?Most ISPs are pretty draconian about it.? However, said Smith, some schools do not impose any sort of retribution. ?We take more action than some of our peer institutions.?
The University has made available an employee at Student Activities to answer any questions students who received the notices may have.
The notices are the latest in a series of actions against other high-profile schools in the last month, including one at Princeton University. According to the Daily Princetonian, 39 students there have recently been served with letters of intent. The RIAA has also targeted Columbia, Harvard, Texas A&M, and the University of Southern California. The last time CMU was targeted substantially was in 1999.
The anonymous student said he has multiple file-sharing programs on his computer but uses only one, i2hub. i2hub is file-sharing software, also known as peer-to-peer, which uses Internet2, a private alternative network providing electronic access to 207 universities around the country. The program is often attractive to students because it allows downloading at speeds far beyond what students can get even on high-speed campus networks.
He says his only mistake was generosity. ?I usually never share, but I felt generous one week and I shared one of my hard drives one week on i2hub for 4?5 days and boom, it happens. Just got unlucky,? said the student. Before any of this happened, he thought i2hub was relatively safe from the prying eyes of the RIAA because it was a private network, but did not feel completely immune. ?I realize there is no 100-percent safety in anything. I knew there was a risk involved,? he said.
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed by Congress in 1998, he could be fined anywhere from $750 to $150,000 for each violation, depending on the circumstances of the file-sharing. For example, a typical 20-gigabyte iPod can hold about 5000 songs. If you assume that just a tenth of the songs on that iPod were illegally downloaded, a lawsuit could cost the owner $75 million. Most lawsuits are settled out of court for $10,000 or less.
Despite the possibility of heavy fines, the student does not find anything wrong with sharing files and believes sharing the files with his friends is fair use under copyright law.
The RIAA tried to gain access to Internet2 through official channels last fall, according to the Daily Spectator, Columbia University?s student newspaper. The article in the March 29 edition of the Spectator raised the question of how the RIAA was monitoring activity over Internet2. Columbia said it didn?t know.
Jenny Engebretsen, a representative for the RIAA, declined to comment on any part of their actions against Carnegie Mellon students.
In the original letter of intent sent to Carnegie Mellon, a lawyer for the RIAA said the notice was being issued because many Internet service providers were requesting advanced notice of any legal action.
However, some see the letters as nothing more than a scare tactic used in lieu of actual lawsuits. ?To me, it sounds like saying ?hey, we know you?re there but we?re not going to do anything because we have 10,000 other cases? ... The intent of the lawsuits is to scare people, whether they are professionals or students, and to deter them from using file-sharing networks,? said Jorge Gonzalez, co-founder of zeropaid.com, an information portal for file-sharing software. ?[The pre-subpoena letters] are more of a slap on the wrist than anything.?