RIAA warnings up

Yale students emerged unscathed from the music industry’s latest round of anti-file-sharing lawsuits, but the number of copyright infringement warnings targeting Elis has skyrocketed since a year ago.

While the University received no notices of impending lawsuits against its students during a wave of legal action in March, data released by Information Technology Services officials shows that copyright infringement warnings are up approximately 70 percent from this time last year. ITS officials said the cause of the increase is unknown, but the Recording Industry Association of America said it has tripled its enforcement efforts this past year. Though no Yale students were caught in the RIAA’s two recent dragnets, which involved 805 students on 35 campuses nationwide over the past five weeks, a spokeswoman for the group could not rule out future lawsuits.

Since September, the University has received an average of 50 copyright infringement complaints each month, Chief Information Officer Philip Long said. The number rose to an average of 60 a month since the beginning of the calendar year, a figure significantly higher than last year’s 35 complaint letters a month during the same period. ITS has not been able to identify an underlying reason behind the stark increase, he said.

The answer may lie with more efficient enforcement by the RIAA, which intensified its anti-piracy campaign on college campuses this year. Technological advances have improved the RIAA’s ability to monitor Internet traffic and identify copyright violators. As a result, the group has more than tripled the rate of warning notices it sends to universities, according to an RIAA press release. Long said the majority of the complaints Yale receives come from RIAA, with a handful from the Motion Picture Association of America.

Over the past five weeks, the RIAA issued 805 “pre-litigation settlement” letters to students nationwide, offering to settle with students accused of music theft before resorting to a lawsuit. Some reports have put the offers at between $3,000 and $5,000 depending on the extent of the file-sharing. Yale was not among the 35 campuses targeted, but RIAA spokeswoman Jenni Engebretsen said any campus could be next.

“There will be a similar volume [of pre-litigation settlement offers] on a monthly basis,” she said.

Engebretsen would not go into more detail on Yale’s possible inclusion in future rounds, saying the RIAA does not comment on the specifics of its investigations.

Even if Yale dodges an RIAA bullet, students could still be hit by the MPAA, the movie industry lobbying group. MPAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said there are no plans to pursue litigation against students who violate copyrights. Still, the MPAA recently prepared a list of the top 25 universities at which movie piracy is a problem, based on the number of infringement notices sent. The RIAA issued its own list of the 25 worst offenders a week before beginning the first round of 400 settlement offers in late February.

But the MPAA list — leaked to the Chronicle of Higher Education last Friday in advance of its public release — was prepared at the request of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, not at the MPAA’s own initiative. Yale appears on neither list.

The copyright infringement complaints Yale receives, also known as Digital Millennium Copyright Act letters, generally identify IP addresses, not student names. ITS forwards the DMCA complaints, as required by law, to the alleged offender if he or she can be identified — which is usually the case, Long said. ITS requires students to either justify the material as appropriate or remove it from the networked computer, and forwards the complaint to a student’s college master or dean, Long said.

Not responding to a DMCA notice or being a repeat offender would be grounds for having network access blocked, he said, and further offenses can result in referral for discipline to the Executive Committee for undergraduates. ITS does not report the student names behind IP addresses to the complaining group, but RIAA has filed “John Doe” suits against an IP address, not a name, at other universities.

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