RIAA leverages power to exploit students
During the past week, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has served Carnegie Mellon with over 30 letters of intent to subpoena. These letters demand that the University supply the RIAA with the names and personal information of students who have been found to be violating copyright law. Once these subpoenas are served, it is likely that the students in question will have action taken against them.
Whether or not the RIAA intends to follow through with its legal threats remains to be seen, but Carnegie Mellon provides little protection for students targeted by the RIAA or the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). In an e-mail sent out to the Carnegie Mellon community last week, Vice-Provost for Computing Services Joel Smith stated that, ?If you are engaged in illegal use of copyrighted materials ... and the University receives a proper subpoena asking for the name of the person who registered the computer being used for such purposes on the Carnegie Mellon network, we are legally obligated to supply that name. The result may well be that the RIAA or MPAA will take legal action against you. There is nothing the University can do to shield you from such action.?
Students cannot expect the University to get in the way of legal proceedings. If a subpoena is correctly served, the school is legally bound to provide students? information, even if they protect students? privacy in other cases. However, the idea of performing massive checks, or ?sweeps,? in colleges for file-sharing seems to be a gross abuse of power on the part of the RIAA. Are they really looking for massive file-sharing operations, or are they just out to scare people?
This ?get tough on copyright infringement? attitude doesn?t really help anyone. It targets a few students who are forced to come up with money during one of the most financially stressful times of their lives, and it doesn?t prevent other people from uploading or downloading files.
With one of the highest yearly college tuitions in the United States, CMU puts its students at a very high risk, should they be forced into a lawsuit with the RIAA. It seems that most students who are subpoenaed settle (as there is no record of a case actually making it to court), unable and unwilling to take such a case to court. When the fact that most students do not have a disposable income is taken into account, the average settlement for file-sharing is staggering. According to Joel Smith, the fine per song may range anywhere from $750 to $150,000. The latter value is equivalent to roughly four years of our tuition. This amount is absurd considering the songs in question retail for 99 cents on iTunes.
If a student has Kazaa or other simple file-sharing software on their computer, and is suddenly sent an e-mail notifying them of an impending subpoena, they are put in a terrible position. With one fell swoop, aside from worrying about grades, students find themselves worrying about finding a lawyer, with or without the help of their parents. As they scrape up cash for tuition, room, and board, they?ve now got to worry about money for a settlement, not to mention legal fees.
The fallout peer-to-peer sharing seems unreasonable. All this trouble simply because students downloaded The Postal Service?s ?Such Great Heights? to replace their scratched CD.
How does the RIAA see any justice in that?