UCI Students Escape RIAA Lawsuits

UC Irvine students have escaped the first two waves of threatened litigation from the Recording Industry Association of America, but the association has asked school administrators to preserve records of Internet activity related to six suspected illegal file-sharers.
Students at other UC campuses were not as lucky. On March 24, 57 students from UC Los Angeles, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley were sent ‘pre-litigation settlement letters’ as part of ‘a new process that gives students the opportunity to resolve copyright infringement claims against them at a discounted rate.’
These letters point students to a Web site (http://www.p2plawsuits.com) where they can use credit cards to pay the RIAA before a lawsuit is filed.
Reports indicate that these settlements are usually between $3,000 and $5,000. Compare this to a maximum of $150,000 per infringing song if a case goes to trial, and you can see how the offer could be appealing for cash-strapped students who can’t afford to put together a legal defense, let alone pay such penalties if found liable.
The RIAA sent 400 letters to 13 universities on Feb. 28 and an additional 405 letters to 23 universities on March 24. It has pledged to pursue ‘hundreds of similar enforcement actions against university network users each month.’
Some have condemned this recent tactic as a way of pressuring students to waive their right to a trial. Such critics include officials at three schools whose students have been targeted.
‘These settlement letters are an attempt to short circuit the legal process to rely on universities to be their legal agent,’ said Brian Rust, communications manager for the University of Wisconsin’s Division of Information Technology, quoted in the Badger Herald. ‘We do not want to be a party to that.’
The University of Maine has joined UW in refusing to deliver the RIAA’s letters to students, although it is allowing students to pick up their letters if they want to.
‘It’s not the university’s role to, in effect, serve papers on our students for another party,’ said John Diamond, a spokesman for UM, quoted in the Maine Campus. ‘We do not feel that it is our obligation to be the arm of the RIAA beyond simply sharing the information.’
The University of Nebraska, Lincoln was able to identify only 13 of 31 students who were accused of file-sharing in the first batch of letters because it deletes records of student Internet activity after 31 days.
UNL has a history of defying the RIAA, previously refusing to deliver cease-and-desist letters to students unless the RIAA paid an $11 processing fee for each one and resisting attempts to persuade them to block peer-to-peer file-sharing programs.
‘We’re spending taxpayer dollars tracking down RIAA problems,’ said Walter Weir, chief information officer for UNL, quoted in the Omaha World-Herald. ‘Why aren’t they paying us for this?’
It seems unlikely that UCI will take a similar stand on principle. Edgar Dormitorio, acting director of student judicial affairs at UCI, said that the school will forward any pre-litigation settlement requests to students if asked to do so, along with a cover letter providing additional information.
UCI has not yet been served with any such requests, according to RIAA spokeswoman Jenni Engebretsen. However, the school has received six requests to preserve evidence in anticipation of possible subpoenas.
One such request, sent from the RIAA to Stephen D. Franklin, director of academic outreach for Network Academic Computing Services on March 3, reads in part, ‘I am writing to alert you to a forthcoming subpoena that may be served on you. … The subpoena will request documents that identify the name, current (and permanent) addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and MAC (Media Access Control) address of the user located at the following IP address: 128.195.xxx.xxx on 28 Jan 2007 21:34:19 EST (GMT -0500).’
IP addresses in the 128.195 range are reserved for computers on UCI’s network.
Engebretsen did not have any knowledge about this particular e-mail and did not know if legal action was pending, but she said, ‘We do send communications for universities to preserve evidence.’
Dormitorio said that information about students suspected of copyright violation would not be provided to the RIAA unless the school is subpoenaed.
UC’s Electronic Communications Policy says, ‘Electronic communications records are normally backed up, if at all, only to assure system integrity and reliability, not to provide for future retrieval, although back-ups may at times serve the latter purpose incidentally.’
However, if UCI is subpoenaed by the RIAA, it will be able to give them the information they want.
‘Records relating to Internet activity are not specifically related to students per se and are not centralized in NACS (or anywhere else),’ Franklin said. ‘While different records are kept for different periods of time by all different parts of the campus, to the best of my knowledge all record retention is in keeping with University policies which allow for such variation.