RIAA might ask U for names of students who download illegally

Branden Peterson

Pockets of college students learned the hard way this summer the entertainment industry is tired of losing money due to increased Internet file sharing.

Now, the recording industry is going for the throat of music piracy by subpoenaing names of individuals who share copyrighted music.

“There will be no more warnings,” said Amanda Collins, a spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America, a Washington D.C. trade group representing music artists.

In June, the RIAA announced plans to begin collecting thousands or millions of dollars from individuals who share files.

University officials who oversee ResNet, the campus Internet connection, have echoed the recording industry’s warnings. Now instead of passing along warnings, the University might have to recommend getting a lawyer.

According to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the RIAA has a legal right to subpoena names of suspected pirates from Internet providers. Once they have the names they can sue the suspected pirates.

“Come September, I wouldn’t be surprised if we received a few subpoenas,” said Steve Cawley, associate vice president and chief information officer at the Office of Information Technology.

The University will release students’ names if they receive subpoenas, General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said.

So far the University has not received a subpoena asking for a student’s name, Cawley said.

Throughout the last school year, entertainment groups including the RIAA sent approximately 100 notifications per month to the University about ResNet users downloading copyrighted content.

Using file-sharing software is allowed on ResNet, but sharing downloaded files is not.

Cawley said when the University learns of a first-time network offender of the ResNet user policy, the individual receives a warning.

Second-time offenders – approximately six students last year – might be temporarily kicked off of the network.

Since the peer-to-peer program Napster arrived a few years ago, thousands of University students have likely participated in the digital music sharing evolution, said Ken Hanna, the security and assurance director of the University.

“We try to tell people it’s not a good idea for legal reasons, for security issues, but it doesn’t seem to sink in,” Hanna said.

During summer orientation, University officials informed new students that network users cannot share their downloaded files using programs such as KaZaA and Morpheus. They also warned about the possible legal consequences.

“We’re really letting them know about copyright violations,” said Jill Froehlich, the technology director in Housing and Residential Life.

According to the recording industry, computer users illegally download 2.6 billion files monthly, leading many music superstars and officials to blame them for revenue losses.

The industry reported a 14 percent drop in revenue from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $12.6 billion in 2002.

Top-selling albums have been affected the most, they say, reporting the 10 best-selling albums sold 60 million copies in 2000.

Last year, consumers purchased only 34 million top-selling titles.

Paying the price

RIAA investigators settled lawsuits with four college students for amounts between $12,500 and $17,500 this spring for sharing hundreds of music files on their university networks.

After programming his computer to share hundreds of music files on the Michigan Tech University network, Joseph Nievelt settled with the RIAA for $15,000.

According to the civil complaint, Nievelt shared at least 200 songs by music artists such as Sugar Ray, Dave Matthews Band, Weezer and others across the Michigan Tech network.

Nievelt, one of the first college students to be sued by the RIAA, still does not think his story discouraged many others from file sharing.

“Even now, I’m sure there are plenty of people who see this sort of news and don’t give it a second thought,” Nievelt said.

“It seems to be that anyone sharing material copyrighted by the RIAA on the KaZaA network is vulnerable,” he said.

A few hundred miles from Michigan Tech, Chicago’s Loyola University released the names of two summer school students after receiving a subpoena, university spokesman Bud Jones said.

Loyola has since begun new programs to discourage file sharing, he said. Now, every time a student wants to log on to the university network, students must read and click “accept” to five Loyola networking policies, Jones said.

The RIAA subpoenas shocked students at Loyola, making them reconsider their use of file-sharing programs, Jones said.

“You don’t think it’s going to happen to you; then it happens and it gets publicity and people go ‘whoa!’ ” Jones said.

But warnings from the entertainment world have not fazed some University students. In fact, some say they are eager to use the University’s high-speed Internet access to download songs, movies and more.

Like many new University students, Adam Carlson and Scott Szesterniak excitedly carried their new computers into their Frontier Hall dormitory rooms Saturday.

Residence hall life gives many first-year students their first chance to live with high-speed Internet access.

Despite the warnings they received during orientation, most new students said they will still download their favorite entertainment.

In his rural North Dakota hometown, Carlson used file-sharing programs to hear music from unknown bands. The bad part, he said, was he had to wait 20 minutes to download one song because of a slow 56K dial-up modem.

“You could download one CD a night,” said Carlson, an electrical engineering first-year student who regularly listens to bands such as Weezer, Tool and Led Zepplin.

News about students fined by the recording industry shocked Szesterniak, a first-year student who has downloaded content for years.

“I was going to download tons of stuff,” he said. “But I don’t want to pay 10 grand.”

First-year student Dan McAllister said college students are attracted to downloading entertainment because the programs are easy to learn and free, so it keeps cash in their wallets.

His downloading hobbies have added approximately 600 songs to his hard drive from artists he said he might never have heard if he did not use KaZaA, Morpheus and Audiogalaxy.

“I hadn’t heard of them,” McAllister said of artists like Sum 41 and New Found Glory. “So I downloaded a song, liked it and decided to get more.”

The bands are now some of his favorites, and it even urged him to buy tickets for their shows. For reasons such as this, he said, the recording industry should not be concerned about losing money.

“It’s still a multibillion-dollar industry. People are still going to buy CDs Ö and still support their favorite band,” he said.

Suing individuals for pirating songs and movies will alienate music customers, he said, but it is a logical step. He said if a University student were sued he would be in disbelief and “would feel cheated.”

“There’s so many people who download so many more songs than me out there.”

The idea that some students might have to pay thousands of dollars to music and movie producers is “crazy” to Bill Garrity, who helped his youngest daughter move into Territorial Hall on Saturday.

Garrity said he has never talked with his children about the consequences of file-sharing programs, but now said he might.

After all, cash-strapped college students’ parents might be stuck with some or all of the legal fines if their children are named in a lawsuit.

Garrity said he hoped the University would keep students’ information private if they received subpoenas.

“You’d think the University would stick behind the kids,” he said.

Building their cases

The recording industry is gathering evidence about music pirates using the same information available to millions of KaZaA users who browse digital files shared on the file-sharing network.

According to the group, investigators log onto the programs, search for songs and then download like any user. While most users are looking for songs, investigators look for user information.

With one right-click, investigators use a program tool that displays a list of all shared files by that user.

Once the recording industry suspects the individual is sharing files illegally, it can subpoena the individual’s name from the user’s Internet provider.

Since the RIAA began issuing subpoenas in June, more than 1,000 subpoenas have been issued to Internet service providers like Verizon Communications Inc., AOL Time Warner Inc. and university networks.

RIAA tracking too harsh?

With more subpoenas to come, Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, chairman of the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, expressed concern that the RIAA might be tracking too broadly.

“The industry has every right to develop practical remedies for protecting its rights,” Coleman said in a statement.

“Yet, the industry seems to have adopted a ‘shotgun’ approach that could potentially cause injury and harm to innocent people,” he said.

By law, copyright holders can sue for up to $150,000 for every song, movie or other piece of illegally pirated material.

Past lawsuits have sought individuals with hundreds of files, adding up to million – or billion – dollar claims. Recent cases have settled for much less, but Coleman said he still wants the RIAA to set justified fines that fit the crime.