RIAA Urges Student Pirates to Settle Now for Less

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) Wednesday stepped up its efforts to wipe out illegal music sharing on college campuses.

The group, which represents the music recording industry, announced that it has sent out 400 “pre-litigation” letters to 13 American universities, informing them that a copyright infringement lawsuit is imminent for a number of their students. The industry asks the universities to forward those letters to the students in question.

Part of the letter offers the students a way to settle the industry’s claims against them “at a discounted rate,” officials said, before a lawsuit is filed.

A Dubious Honor

The five universities receiving the most letters were Ohio University, which will receive 50; North Carolina State University, Syracuse University and the University of Massachusetts, each of which will receive 37; and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, which has been sent 36.

“We have transformed how we do business, and online music has experienced a sea change compared to three years ago,” said Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the RIAA.

“A legal marketplace that barely existed in 2003 is now a billion dollar business showing real promise,” he continued. “Many rogue sites have gone under and fans have a far better understanding of the right and wrong ways to enjoy music. No matter how much we adapt, though, any new business model must always necessarily rely upon a respect for property rights. That’s why we must continue to enforce our rights.”

On college campuses, officials said, the problem is “disproportionately problematic,” despite the fact that Ruckus Network recently began offering free music downloads to any college student.

Better Detection

Last week, the RIAA announced that technological improvements have allowed it to begin identifying campus copyright infringement better than ever before, causing it to begin sending warning notices — letters informing a college that an individual on campus has been illegally distributing copyrighted songs, and requesting that the university take down that illegal content — at a rate three times higher than it did last year.

“What you find on campuses is that students don’t really understand,” Kent Hendrickson, associate vice chancellor for information services at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, told TechNewsWorld. “They say, ‘what’s the big deal?'”

The University of Nebraska has an official policy in place governing campus use of technology, with punishments spelled out for each infraction, and Hendrickson said all incoming students are given a copy. Whether or not they read it — or heed it — is another question, however.

New Focus on Education

Whereas in the past the university had been receiving as many as 10 warning notices a week, that number has recently increased to about 40, Hendrickson added. In response to the pre-litigation letters sent out this week, Hendrickson says the university will step up its own educational efforts.

“We’re going to try to do a better job of getting this information in front of students so they understand that if a suit is brought, individuals are liable, not the university, and that a real law is being broken,” Hendrickson said. “We’re also going to try to respond more quickly to the notices we receive.”

“Because we know that some audiences — particularly campus music downloaders — can sometimes be impervious to even the most compelling educational messages or legal alternatives, these new efforts aim to help students recognize that the consequences for illegal downloading are more real than ever before,” said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA.

“We will continue to work with respected educators to reach students before [they enter] college through programs like i-SAFE and Young Minds Inspired, but we simply cannot afford to write off a generation of college music fans,” Sherman added. “We hope that university administrators recognize the beneficial role they will play here — most immediately, by helping avert a lawsuit against a student, but better yet, by demonstrating the leadership that helps teach students right from wrong and by implementing the technological tools that prevent piracy from happening in the first place.”

First Carrot, Then Stick

The RIAA’s new initiative will also focus on Ares- and Gnutella-based networks such as LimeWire, which are gaining in popularity as online sources of free, illegal music, officials said. In addition, the industry group is launching a dedicated Web site with information for people facing lawsuits, and has developed an advertising campaign for college newspapers.

“I think they’re both increasing their activity, and trying to do it in a less offensive way,” Phil Leigh, senior analyst for Inside Digital Media, told TechNewsWorld. By first trying out the free, legal solution through Ruckus, “They’ve offered the carrot first, followed by the stick.”

How well the RIAA’s new approach succeeds in reducing piracy remains to be seen, but the bottom line is that “if somebody breaks the law, they should pay,” Bob Halal, director of IT policy for Ohio State University, told TechNewsWorld. “This will be interesting to see.”

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