Courtverdict favors RIAA

The “U” has received 417 letters from the RIAA over the past two academic years.

Andy Steinke

The plaintiff: The Recording Industry Association of America.

The defendant: Jammie Thomas, a 30-year-old woman from Brainerd, Minn.

The lawsuit: According to the RIAA, Thomas illegally downloaded and shared 1,700 songs on the peer-to-peer, file-sharing network Kazaa.

The verdict: A federal jury in Duluth, Minn., ruled in favor of the RIAA, and determined that Thomas should pay the industry $222,000, or $9,250 for each of 24 specifically cited songs.

With more than 26,000 lawsuits filed by the RIAA since 2003 and nearly 3,000 pre-lawsuit settlement letters sent to college students from March to August, this is an issue that likely won’t go away.

The University has received 417 of those letters from the RIAA over the past two academic years, University Federal Relations coordinator Dan Gilchrist said.

When students are notified of copyright infringement they’re warned to remove illegal downloading software from their computers, he said. Their network privileges are then suspended for two weeks.

The letters are sent to the University instead of the student because the University is the students’ Internet provider, University Student Legal Service attorney Bill Dane said.

“The University actually mails the letters out for the recording companies because the companies only have an IP address, which can only be linked to a person by the Internet provider,” Dane said.

The University isn’t required to forward the letters to students, but it chooses to do so because it’s in the student’s best interest, Gilchrist said.

Officials at the University of Wisconsin have chosen not to pass the letters along to students for two reasons, Brian Rust, Wisconsin Division of Information Technology Communications manager, said.

“One is that we are not legally bound to,” he said. “The process the RIAA is going through is outside of what the Digital Millennium Copyright Act calls for.

“Related to that, we don’t want to be an agent of the RIAA, and we feel like we would be if we passed the letters along,” he said.

Rust said doing that would make it seem like the University of Wisconsin is telling students to settle with the RIAA.

Once students receive a letter, they have two options: settle with the RIAA within 20 days of receiving it, or wait for a lawsuit to be filed and potentially go to court.

Dane said the standard settlement is a lump-sum payment of $3,000.

However, not every student who receives a letter is willing to settle, Dane said.

“One student who came to see us had never owned a computer before in their life,” he said.

Aerospace engineering junior Jordan Rosendahl said he hasn’t received a letter from the RIAA, but did receive a similar e-mail from the University warning him about his downloading habits.

“It had the times I had opened Limewire up and the stuff I had downloaded for the past three weeks,” he said. “It was very accurate.”

Despite letters and lawsuits, the average number of peer-to-peer users has continued to increase.

According to BigChampagne, a privately owned company that monitors media consumption, there was an average of 3.85 million peer-to-peer users in August 2003.

That number has since grown to approximately 9.35 million users.

Dane said he doesn’t think the lawsuit will have an effect on future cases.

“I think it sets no precedence for the RIAA to get settlements,” he said. “There will be students who will be wrongfully accused of downloading music. If they go to trial on that assumption, then the outcomes will be different.”

Because first-time cases often set standards for future cases, this isn’t the first case a student would want to see make it to the courts, Dane said.

Microbiology sophomore Jessica Reinitz said she thinks the verdict might affect downloading but probably won’t be a deterrent in the long run.

“If (students) hear about the case they might stop downloading,” she said. “People think they’re invincible until they’re caught.”