February 5, 2004

Campaign Against Illegal Filesharing Continues

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Despite recent court setbacks and the ire of the music industry’s largest demographic, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has vowed to continue suing those who commit copyright violations. On Jan. 21st, the association followed through on its threat and launched 532 lawsuits.

“Our campaign against illegal file sharers is not missing a beat,” said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, in a recent press release. “The message to illegal file sharers should. be as clear as ever — we can and will continue to bring lawsuits on a regular basis against those who illegally distribute copyrighted music.”

Last September, the association lost a case in which Verizon held that the RIAA was violating their customers’ privacy by forcing the company to hand over customer names without court oversight. Now, the RIAA must first issue “John Doe” suits, which contain the offending internet protocol numbers.

They are thus required to show evidence that infringement has occurred before they can subpoena the names from the internet service provider and then proceed with the suit. “The process by which we obtain the identity of defendants has changed,” Sherman said, “but the enforcement program has not.”

On campus, however, many remain undeterred in their downloading activities.

“As far as I know,” said Lenny Lantsman ’07, “they can’t prosecute you unless you share. So I download, but I don’t share. And even if that’s not the case, I’m not really concerned because the chances of me being sued are very small.”

Tracy Mitrano, director of information technology policy and computer law policy, said that she was unaware of any lawsuits by the RIAA against a Cornell student, though she could not verify that. However, she also cautioned that students could receive judicial punishment from the school if the university was informed that students were committing copyright violation.

Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant confirmed this.

“Last year, we had approximately 200 referrals for digital copyright violations,” she said. “I don’t know how many we have had so far this year.”

She explained that for first time violators, the punishment usually involved community service or a fine.

Repeat offenders may find themselves in more serious trouble. “The DMCA requires, under section 5.12 which applies to internet service providers, that the internet service provider has a policy for repeat offenders if the ISP wants to provide itself some means to alleviate liability,” Mitrano said.

Grant said that repeat offenders could have a mark on their disciplinary record or even lose access to the network for a period of time. Despite the danger, Grant said she has seen a “large increase” in violations over the past several years.

Many students, however, have stopped using file-sharing programs not for fear of lawsuits or administrative punishment, but for an end to the aggravation file-sharing software brings.

“Songs are getting harder and harder to download,” said Matt Salerno ’07. “It’s hard to get quality songs now.”

Salerno also cited the number of viruses and spyware as big deterrents.

“I stopped because I got a new computer and a lot of viruses get transferred through file-sharing programs,” he said. Matt now buys CD’s or burns them from friends.

Mitrano pointed out that, no matter how the comparison is made, Cornell’s number of violations is very small when compared with those of other universities and colleges. “We all, as a community, must be doing something right,” she said. She indicated that the new network billing system has probably helped some decide not to download. “Use-based billing has allowed users to make more thoughtful use of the network and bandwidth and that more thoughtful use has taken care of bandwidth problems — an issue with which many other campuses still mightily struggle.”

Indeed, many interviewed said that a major reason for downloading music was its ease, an appeal that would quickly disappear after a hefty bill. “A lot of people have a library of thousands of songs,” Salerno said. “You’re not going to listen to all of them. [Downloading] is just something to do when you’re bored.”

For some, however, the ResNet charge and the threat of continued suits isn’t enough. When asked if he would stop downloading if somebody he knew was sued, Lantsman replied that he probably would not. “It depends on the severity,” he said. “But I probably still would. The music I’m downloading — like Tanzanian Jazz — the music company isn’t going to care about.”

The University Counsel was not available in time for this article to verify that no students have been thus far subpoenaed.

Archived article by Michael Morisy

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