Lawsuits aim to stop file sharing at elite universities

Some Yale post office boxes may soon be filled with subpoenas if the University is targeted in the latest wave of anti-file-sharing litigation.

Both the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America announced new rounds of lawsuits against students and other individuals late last week. While Yale information and technology officials said no students have been threatened with legal action for trading bootleg media files online yet, RIAA representatives and industry experts said some media executives intend to prosecute students at prominent universities to discourage file-swapping.

As part of its renewed effort, the music industry has already sued 68 students at 23 institutions nationwide, including Harvard and Georgetown Universities, a RIAA press release said. MPAA representatives declined to release a total of the movie industry’s complaints or the focus of the industry’s campaign.

RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said the new round of lawsuits are part of a larger effort by the recording industry to enforce copyright protection on college campuses. He declined to comment beyond the association’s press release.

“In a world that is becoming more and more connected through the wonders of digital technology, students need to understand that just because someone else’s property or creations can be obtained easily and freely without anyone seemingly knowing, there are consequences because it is stealing,” RIAA General Counsel Steven Marks said in the release.

Eric Garland, the chief executive officer at BigChampagne, an online media ratings company, said the music and movie industries are targeting students at elite institutions to set an example.

“It’s really chilling,” Garland said. “They’re looking to find examples at all the big schools, the one unlucky kid who gets held up for everyone else to look at.”

Garland said student file-sharing is merely an easy scapegoat for media industry conservatives’ frustrations with flagging sales.

Yale Chief Information Officer Philip Long said he does not know of any subpoenas of students, although photography professor Timothy Davis was sued during the first wave of RIAA litigation in September 2003. Long said the University, acting as an Internet service provider, deals with file-sharing complaints without publicizing the identities of alleged student infringers. He warned that a student’s name might be released if his or her offenses were “particularly egregious.”

Information Security Officer Morrow Long said University policies have not changed in light of increased pressure from media industries, but he said they could change with precedent elsewhere.

“We are watching the actions of the industry and our peer institutions intently,” Long said.

Most students charged with file-swapping are forced to settle because of legal expenses, said Fred von Lohmann, a senior intellectual property attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which offers legal advice to defendants in cases brought by the media industries. But Lohmann said users who are smart about their file-sharing will likely avoid a subpoena.

“Industries are coming after people who are uploading files,” Lohmann said. “If you’re just downloading, you’re pretty much off the hook. As far as I know, no lawsuits have been brought against people who are purely downloading.”

Garland said file-sharing is also a growing concern for television broadcasters, whose advertising revenues suffer when programs are downloaded and watched months or years after they originally air.

NBC Universal spokesperson Shannon Jacobs said television piracy is a growing concern among the networks.

“It’s not like people are just going to be making a VHS copy of our shows. Now they can get very high-quality copies of our shows,” Jacobs said.

Stephanie Bloch ‘06 listens to digital music files on iTunes. Students that illegally download music and movies are the targets of a new slate of lawsuits from the RIAA and MPAA.
Jie Zhou
Stephanie Bloch ‘06 listens to digital music files on iTunes. Students that illegally download music and movies are the targets of a new slate of lawsuits from the RIAA and MPAA.

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