Suits threaten file sharers



The Recording Industry Association of America continued its crackdown on copyright infringement Monday with 261 lawsuits against Internet users accused of illegal file sharing.

Yale officials, in anticipation of the RIAA’s legal campaign, notified students who are targets of complaints this year and began briefing freshmen on copyright infringement as part of computer orientation sessions. Many students said they were worried about action by the RIAA, and some said they stopped using peer-to-peer file-sharing programs such as KaZaA.

The lawsuits use information gleaned from at least 900 subpoenas, which the RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America had filed this summer to discover the identities of file sharers, including students at several colleges. The two groups have also filed complaints about file sharing with Internet service providers, including Yale.

When the University receives complaints about individual users, ITS officials notify the students, Academic and Media Technology Director Chuck Powell said.

“We don’t actually look into the individual traffic,” Powell said. “But we do have a legal responsibility to react to complaints.”

Powell said Information Technology Services officials have seen an increase in complaints from the RIAA and the MPAA about copyright transgressions on the Yale network.

“It’s clearly safe to say that we have seen more notices here at Yale, and we have been successfully dealing with them,” Powell said.

Thus far, he said, there have been no “troubling or difficult cases” at Yale.

But RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said the popularity of pirated works on campuses makes students likely targets.

“It makes sense that a number of them will be students just because piracy of copyrighted works is so popular on college campuses,” Lamy said.

Though the RIAA has said it is open to settlements, each file on a defendant’s computer could yield damages of $750 to $150,000. The RIAA said it already has negotiated $3,000 settlements with fewer than 10 Internet users who learned they might be sued.

The RIAA did not identify for reporters which Internet users it was suing or where they live. Federal courthouses in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas and elsewhere reported receiving some lawsuits.

The RIAA also announced an amnesty program for people who admit they illegally share music, promising not to sue them in exchange for their admission and pledge to delete the songs off their computers. The offer does not apply to people who already are targets of legal action.

“It doesn’t seem like it would be appropriate to invite amnesty in that situation; it would be an invitation to infringe until you get caught,” said RIAA President Cary Sherman. “Nobody gets a free pass here.” He called the amnesty offer “our version of an olive branch.”

The RIAA compiles names by logging onto popular peer-to-peer services like KaZaA. It targets “egregious offenders,” though no file-sharers are immune to lawsuits, Lamy said.

“There’s no hard-and-fast rule,” Lamy said. “The more files a person is offering illegally, the more likely it is that he or she would be a target. Under federal copyright law, it is illegal to share even one copyrighted file, so no one should take any comfort if they are just sharing a handful.”

Powell said Yale has no estimate of the number of users of peer-to-peer services, especially because summer volumes are different from school-year volumes.

“Quite frankly, we don’t particularly go out of our way to try to figure out how many people are KaZaA users,” Powell said. “And the fact is, legal uses of KaZaA don’t bother us.”

Many students said they did not want to discuss their use of KaZaA or other peer-to-peer services because of potential lawsuits by the RIAA.

Alex Temple ’05 said though he had in the past used file-sharing programs Napster and Audiogalaxy, he does not use KaZaA, in part because of the threat of lawsuits.

“I’m not morally opposed to [file-sharing]; I’m morally opposed to the abuse of it,” Temple said. “I don’t do it because I’m afraid of the RIAA suing people.”

Other students said the recent RIAA activity has made KaZaA less appealing, with the quality and availability of files decreasing.

“I don’t use it that heavily, and so if it comes up being stopped like Napster was, I think I can live without having such a thing in my life,” Erin Dress ’06 said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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