12 more students targeted by RIAA for file sharing

By
Monday, November 26, 2007

The Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group representing the country’s major record labels, sent pre-litigation letters to 12 Brown students who the RIAA alleges were engaged in illegal file sharing. These letters, which the University received on Nov. 14, were sent as part of the organization’s 10th wave of such notices – in April, a group of 12 Brown students received similar letters.

The letters notify students that if they do not pay a penalty online within 20 days, the RIAA will file a lawsuit.

The 12 letters sent to Brown this month were some of the 417 letters sent to students at 16 campuses across the country. Although the letters were sent to a range of schools, Brown’s peers appear to have been hit particularly hard: Six of the eight Ivy League schools received letters this month.

Eleven of the 12 Brown students contacted by the RIAA were undergraduates who were allegedly downloading from their dorm rooms. The other was a summer student.

The letters are part of an ongoing campaign by the RIAA to target university students engaging in illegal file-sharing. “I think universities are an easy target because we provide a lot of bandwidth for our students,” said Director of Information Technology Security Connie Sadler. “We consider ourselves an Internet service provider for students who live in the dorms. … It’s easier for them to work with and target universities than to target Internet service providers in general because other ISPs provide access to millions of users, and it’s harder to go after them.”

Representatives from the RIAA did not respond to requests for comment.

Though it has been seven months since the last batch of Brown students received letters from the RIAA, it is unclear whether the threats of litigation have had much effect on students’ downloading habits.

“It’s hard to say whether anything has changed,” Sadler said. “I hear from some students that they don’t download any longer.” She said that the record companies have frequently warned students who received letters. “I have to tell you that it is my experience that most students who got the letters had received some prior complaints,” she said. “So I don’t think it’s a case of students not knowing.”

But Zachary McCune ’10, who received a pre-litigation letter from the RIAA in April, said he senses some shift in behavior.

“I haven’t downloaded since,” he said. “I’m definitely more honest now. I use (the iTunes Store) exclusively.”

McCune signed a contract during his settlement stating that he would no longer illegally download music and that if he were caught doing so again, he would face stiffer penalties.

“I think it probably has (changed my friends’ behavior) because everyone’s more wary now,” he said. “Whenever this happens to someone you know or someone at your school, it has an effect.”

Since his run-in with the RIAA last spring, McCune has become active on campus with the national Free Culture movement. Working with Assistant Professor of Modern Culture and Media Studies Mark Tribe ’90, McCune started a Free Culture chapter at Brown, which he hopes will be a resource for the latest 12 students.

“We’re a resource,” McCune said. “Free Culture is a national organization that was a resource for me when it happened. I was put in touch with lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and they gave me some great advice.”

“We’ll probably be very present at this point because it’s a very isolating experience. You’re one of 12 people out of probably thousands on campus who are violating copyright law, and you feel very singled out.”

At Brown, the last round of letters did not produce any real change in Computing and Information Services or administration policy. CIS still does not monitor network traffic – although it does restrict the bandwidth available to individual IP addresses – and there are currently no plans to begin restricting the use of peer-to-peer clients on the network, according to Sadler.

“It’s tough because P2P traffic is sometimes used for legitimate purposes, so it’s really a behavioral issue, not a software one,” she said. “For now I think it’s going to continue the way it is, but every time something like this happens we’re probably closer to getting together and discussing a change in policy.”