On May 16, in its most recent attempt to curb illegal file sharing on college campuses, the Recording Industry Association of America filed 16 “John Doe” lawsuits against Cornell network users who had allegedly committed acts of copyright infringement.
In April, the RIAA began sending pre-litigation settlement letters to Cornell regarding select network users who were illegally uploading or downloading copyrighted material through various file-sharing networks such as Limewire. The letters requested that the school alert the network users with forthcoming lawsuits, advising that the students settle the issue with the RIAA by making a payment of $3,000. The payment, according to the settlement letters, would be far less than could be demanded if a lawsuit were to be filed.
The more recently filed “John Doe” lawsuits are against the students who did not agree to pay the settlement fee. The suits have enabled members of the RIAA to subpoena from Cornell the identification information of the student whose corresponding Internet Protocol address has been linked to stealing music. With such information, RIAA members can proceed to contact the specified individuals to negotiate a settlement, which would most likely be greater than the settlement initially proposed in the pre-litigation settlement letters.
Tracy Mitrano, director of information technology policy and computer policy in the Office of the Vice President for Information Technologies, said that the University is protective of the privacy of its students and faculty.
“We only respond to compulsory legal notices and otherwise do not disclose the identity of students to them or any other content owner who alleges infringement. We do indeed invest extraordinary efforts to educate our students about the law, policy and politics of copyright, but we do so in the exercise of our missions and not either as handmaidens or pawns of the content industry,” Mitrano said.
One sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous, sent a settlement letter last spring. She chose to settle with the RIAA and pay $3,000, rather than having to pay the potential fine of $750 per file.
“They caught me on 359 files,” she said, “so that would equal about $269,000.”
In addition to the settlement fee, Cornell fined the student $30 and referred her to the Office of the Judicial Administrator.
Another student who received a settlement letter and avoided further litigation by paying the settlement fee voiced her frustration with the RIAA’s recent actions.
“I think this country has gotten completely out of control with personal property rights,” she said. “Music, art and literature should be about sharing an experience with as many people as possible. I think that real artists and inventors should be content to know that their music is so widely appreciated and admired. It has also been shown that music downloading and sampling has helped the music industry because people are able to test and try music before buying it. Music sharing is hardly a serious crime.”
Mitrano said that the music industry is targeting all institutions of higher education, and, when compared to other universities of comparable size, Cornell has received fewer notifications.
According to Mitrano, the Office of Information Technologies in conjunction with the Office of Judicial Administration will institute a Copyright Education Program. The program, which will begin in September, involves an online course to be completed by first-time copyright offenders who have no prior record with the J.A.