BU outs file-sharing students

by Beacon Staff • April 4, 2007

Last month, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sent 23 colleges, including nearby Boston University (BU), cease-and-desist letters for students involved in illegal file sharing. BU received 50 pre-litigation settlement letters, which give the violators the opportunity to settle out of court for a discounted settlement fee.

Richard Grossman, Emerson's director of Telecommunications and Networking for Information Technology, said he isn't sure what the RIAA did specifically to determine copyright violators at BU.

He said the university's close proximity to Emerson does not make Emerson students more likely RIAA targets.

"I do receive-on a somewhat regular basis-cease and desist requests from organizations such as RIAA and MPAA for Emerson to take actions necessary to ensure that specific active violations of copyright end," Grossman said in an email to The Beacon. "To play it safe my advice, as always, is to comply with copyright law."

Colin Riley, director of Media Relations at Boston University said the school has not provided the names of the copyright violators to the RIAA but has turned the letters over to the cited students.

"It's like taking a candy bar out of CVS. You're shoplifting by taking the product," Riley said. "The movie you download may be watched by you once or twice but anyone else can also watch it when you file share it."

Riley said the RIAA requested that the university forward the letters to the students with the offending IP addresses. BU complied with this request and also sent a letter from the college's dean of students about the matter.

The students now have a choice on whether or not to follow up. If they choose not to, the RIAA could file for a subpoena to identify the student attached to the IP address in question.

Riley said in that instance, a college becomes obligated to hand over the students' names.

Liz Kennedy, Communications Coordinator for the RIAA, said the association has launched a new initiative which they call a "deterrence program" to combat campus file sharing.

In a press release Kennedy provided to The Beacon, the RIAA says in the plan's second wave, which began in February, 405 letters were sent out to schools such as BU, Columbia University and Ithaca College.

The document calls the initiative "a significant escalation and expansion of the industry's ongoing efforts ... to resolve copyright infringement claims against them at a discounted rate before a formal lawsuit is filed."

The pre-litigation settlement letters are first sent to the schools' general counsels and alert the offending students or faculty of the forthcoming copyright infringement suit. The college may then forward the letter to the specific violator.

BU psychology and film double major Evelyn Garcia said she doesn't believe students should be fined by the RIAA for file sharing.

"I'm very much for it as a way to get your music out there," Garcia said, adding that independent musicians don't have many other, cheaper options.

A March 8 press release provided by Kennedy stated these letters have been sent three times more often than in previous years. This increase even sparked Congressional hearing last month on how congress can work with the RIAA to combat campus copyright infringement.

In a press release from March 21, Cary Sherman, President of the RIAA is quoted as saying, "This is not our preferred course, but we hope that students will understand the consequences of stealing music and that our partners in the college community will appreciate the proactive role they can play."

He said the new initiative is about defending the recording industry's rights and fixing the "shared problem" of illegal file sharing for both the RIAA and colleges.

Associate General Counsel for Emerson Betsy Facher Rauch said Emerson students caught illegally file sharing would not receive legal help from the Office of the General Counsel as the college does not condone file sharing on its network.

"If Emerson students were to receive a letter notifying them that they are being sued by RIAA or MPAA for illegal file sharing, they may wish to consult with their own private attorneys about how to respond to such a letter," Facher Rauch said in an e-mail to The Beacon.

She added she was not aware of any recently received cease-and-desist letters directed for Emerson students or faculty.

Riley said BU would also not be providing legal assistance to students receiving pre-settlement letters. He said much of the school's time and money already goes into clearing up instances of students illegal file sharing.

In an online discussion forum for college students, Sherman said, "We are pursuing the same kinds of initiatives with universities as before-education, enforcement, promotion of legal alternatives, and technical measures to inhibit illegal file-trafficking. But we're focusing more on the enforcement arm of the program in terms of lawsuits on college campuses."

He added students should be aware that they are not anonymous when using file sharing programs because of a tracking IP address but that even students who are aware choose to break the law.

"Frankly, we've found that students know that downloading from unauthorized P2P systems is illegal, but the chance of getting caught isn't great enough to discourage them from doing it," Sherman said.

Garcia said that other schools such as Bentley College in Waltham provide Napster to their students to avoid problems with copyright infringement lawsuits.

"College is enough as it is. We don't need another worry or fee," Garcia said. "Out of the forty grand we pay a year, I'm sure colleges could fit it in somewhere."