Executive Privilege

For a second week, The Tartan reports on the Recording Industry Association of America?s barrage of lawsuits targeting i2hub users from college campuses across the nation. Twenty-five Carnegie Mellon students are among the students hit by the civil suits.
In hunting down college students for sums of money equalling a semester?s tuition at most colleges, the RIAA and its members have adopted a reprehensible strategy. But shameful schemes are nothing new to the RIAA and its members.
In 1996, the five largest record distributors ? all members of the RIAA ? collectively adopted a minimum advertised price for their CDs. The distributors prevented retailers from lowering their prices to compete with
each other by penalizing disobedient retailers. The Federal Trade Commission forced an end to the illegal practice in 2000. Forty states brought a class action lawsuit against the labels and three large music retailers.
California?s attorney general Bill Lockyer said, ?Instead of benefiting from a competitive marketplace, consumers looking for music entertainment had their pocketbooks squeezed by the secretive deals.? The companies settled in 2002, agreeing to a $143
million payout.
Last week, in an online chat with college newspaper editors, the president of the RIAA, Cary Sherman, stated, ?We?re [filing lawsuits] because to do nothing is to allow the continuing devastation of the music industry and all the people who devote their lives and careers to making music.?
There?s no hiding the RIAA?s lack of genuine concern for the devoted music-makers. Major record labels have long paid radio stations to play only their artists? music. With that illegitimate leverage, the big labels have strong-armed artists into signing contracts that leave them with a mere fraction of their CD sales? revenues.
For the RIAA to take the high moral ground now is disgraceful. The RIAA?s members have long been marked by greed; these companies? disreputable reaction to the P2P movement is just another example of that greed. As Marshall Roy suggests in his editorial in this week?s Forum section, the RIAA and its members must adapt to a new environment, to the new demands of their consumers.
But until that time comes, file-sharers will face repeated attacks. The RIAA
set the lawsuits-per-college maximum at 25, for now. Initially, the RIAA told the University that it would be pursuing as many as 40 IP addresses. Imagine the relief of those 15 or so students who dodged the bullet. While they stick to ripping their friends? CDs
for a while, the unlucky 25 will be worrying about the thousands of dollars they?re about to shell out in legal fees and
out-of-court settlements. Who would have been number 26?
There are 5,389 undergraduates at CMU, and I?m willing to bet that, the day before the RIAA sent out its letters of intent to sue, a lot more than 40 of us were illegally downloading copyrighted music.
For all intents and purposes, each of us who has downloaded or shared music, movies, or other copyrighted material is number 26.
The RIAA has targeted our friends and fellow students to make examples of them. Twenty-five members of our community will soon face great hardship ? legal fees alone are unaffordable to most college students. Student Senate should create a legal defense fund to which members of our community can donate. The fund will
serve to mitigate the financial adversity of CMU students implicated in the RIAA?s lawsuits.
Student Senate should act quickly and come to the defense of the students it represents.