RIAA Partners with Internet Service Providers to Warn Offenders

According to an article from The Wall Street Journal dated Dec. 19, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has just devised a new strategy to further reduce Internet piracy of music and vastly restrict expenses for costly litigation. The plan: to delegate disciplinary measures to Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) themselves instead of preparing lawsuits for every infraction.
Although the RIAA has become infamous for pursuing legal action for piracy offenders, with some successful lawsuits garnering up to $150,000 in “lost revenue” for the RIAA due to pirated and not-purchased music, this latest method of delegating responsibility to ISPs can be seen as a quiet admission that litigation alone is too expensive to maintain as an effective strategy.
In an interview with Ars Technica, a blog-style computer news aggregator, RIAA president Cary Sherman described the technology used to identify and notify offenders as “essentially the same” as that used for the lawsuit campaign.
In early 2007, the RIAA began to send “pre-litigation” letters accusing the receiver of having violated copyright laws and urging them to settle out of court for a pre-arranged fee. Although alleged offenders would be abandoning the right to defend themselves in court, the resulting fee tends to be between $3,000 and $5,000.
This is a fraction of the cost for legal fees and potential damages. A June 25 article for Wired magazine’s blog, Threat Level, indicated that even though Tanya Anderson prevailed in a suit filed in 2005, RIAA vs Anderson, she countersued for $108,000 to compensate for defending herself in court.
According to a post for Anteater News by Stephen D. Franklin, director of Network and Academic Computing Services (NACS), UC Irvine regularly receives allegations of copyright infringement from the RIAA and companies of the Motion Picture Association of America. All allegations are investigated, and when network records indicate that a student is involved in the infringement-related connection, the investigation is turned over to Student Judicial Affairs.
Although there are definitely conscious copyright infringements occurring, Franklin posits that some infringements may be the work of rogue software innocuously downloaded by unsuspecting students that operate without the students’ knowledge. To this end, Franklin urges students to be aware of “what you install on your computer and what you allow others to install.”
“NACS does not monitor the content of downloads or uploads,” Franklin said. “It does pay attention to unusually high volumes as these can be a primary indication of security problems.”
According to the post, UCI has received “early settlement” letters from the RIAA and forwarded them to students, preferring to keep students informed despite these messages’ dire natures. It further states that UCI cannot offer legal counsel or representation, but encourages students to seek legal support and counsel.
One of the most troubling issues with the RIAA lawsuits has been releasing students’ personal information to the RIAA in its attempt to identify offenders. Franklin contends that UCI does this only in accordance with legal requirements.
“In particular, when served with a legal subpoena and only when served with a legal subpoena, the university has supplied to the RIAA’s legal representatives information linking the use of network resources at a particular date and time to a particular individual,” Franklin said.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a Web page of frequently asked questions to inform college students of their options if accused of copyright infringement by the RIAA. Formed in 1990, the EFF is a self-described donor-funded non-profit organization dedicated to “[championing] the public interest in every crucial battle affecting digital rights.” Their Web page has links to various pages on their Web site and elsewhere urging students to learn about their circumstances before responding to any litigation or pre-litigation accusations.
The EFF Web page emphasizes that the “early settlement” letters do not mean that an alleged offender is guilty of violating federal copyright law – only that “the RIAA has accused [alleged offenders] of infringing on its members’ copyrights” and they should consider other options before submitting to a contract that the EFF considers to be “settlements that may not be in students’ best interests because they are conducted outside the normal adversarial process and students may not even be represented.”
The Office of the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs insists that students legally download media, with popular choices available at www.vcsa.uci.edu/music/.