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RIAA targets college students in lawsuits

As part of its continuing effort to eliminate digital trafficking of copyrighted materials, the recording industry is set to announce it is specifically targeting university network users in its next round of lawsuits.

According to an e-mail obtained by the Oracle, the Recording Industry Association of America will announce plans to file lawsuits against 31 USF network users today.

“These individuals have used apeer-2-peer (p2p) service to copy and distribute a large number of our member companies’ copyrighted sound recordings without authorization,” the e-mail states.

The lawsuits come as part of a nationwide RIAA campaign aimed at reducing illegal file trafficking on university campuses.

According to a press release, 400 pre-litigation settlement letters are being sent to 13 schools across the country. USF will receive 31 letters, each dealing with an individual user of the school’s network.

Six universities will face more instances of litigation than USF: Ohio University with 50 instances; North Carolina State, the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Syracuse University with 37 each; the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with 36, and the University of Texas with 33.

According to Assistant Director of Academic Computing Alex Campoe, the RIAA is only privy to the anonymous time and date stamps University officials could examine to find the accused network user’s name. However, it is USF’s policy not to release any names until they receive a court order to do so.

“The student could not be identified unless they contact the RIAA him or herself,” Campoe said.

The RIAA plans to file what they call “Doe” suits to obtain subpoenas, which could force the University to hand over the names of those who stand accused.

“What (the RIAA’s) previous type of action has been was to go right to federal court and file a lawsuit under the name ‘John Doe,'” Associate General Counsel Colin Mailloux said. “The reason why is because they don’t have a name associated with their information. … Once they get into court, then they can get subpoenas or court orders to get the information they need to find the person that they are suing.”

The e-mail stated that the RIAA will ask school administrators to pass letters onto those accused, offering the ability to settle out of court. The accused would then have 20 days to accept an early settlement option, which would forego a hearing and offer a reduced cost.

According to WBUL Technical Director Dane Harmon, the RIAA often uses its resources to intimidate people into settling out of court.

“It puts a really big financial strain on the accused to try and defend themselves,” Harmon said. “How are they supposed to mount a good legal defense against a multi-billion dollar industry?”

This is not the first time USF students have become targets of the RIAA.

“We did have some students that were wrapped up in the net of the last round (of litigations),” Mailloux said. “We did have to deal with this before, but it wasn’t focused specifically on academic communities, and this time it is.”

According to Harmon, the time and date stamps may not be a foolproof way to identify a potential violator. When students register to use their laptops on the network, they are actually registering the wireless card, he said.

“I bought a new laptop and sold my old card,” Harmon said. “So, for a semester, whoever I sold it to is on the network as me.”