March 30, 2007

Recording Industry Assoc., Colleges Track Net Piraters

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Last month, the Recording Industry Association of America announced the initiation of a reformed legal process against computer users who engage in illegal file sharing of copyrighted content on peer-to-peer systems. Colleges and universities across the United States will now be asked to help notify students of impending lawsuits before the case ends up in court. They will assist the RIAA in tracking down and sending notification letters to the students whose specific Internet protocol numbers correspond with those that the Association reports. The letters inform the students of the potential legal action and suggest that the students not delete the illicit material in order to better facilitate the legal process and the subsequent compensation of the recording industry.

Cornell has yet to receive any settlement letters, but has been sent preservation notices (the precursor to the notification letters) by the RIAA. Cornell has, in the past, agreed to forward pre-litigation notices to the appropriate students for the RIAA, but will go no further. The RIAA is suggesting that colleges, as private institutions, use programs like cGrid to track internet use across the campus. Yet, many officials believe that this could lead to a violation of privacy and free speech.

Tracy Mitrano, director of Information Technology Policy, said, “We believe that complying with the law, providing education and enforcing the DMCA are the appropriate actions to take, while also complying with Cornell’s beliefs, traditions and social responsibility.”

She said she feels that Cornell is making an adequate effort to combat copyright infringement. In addition to education and annual DMCA notices, the Office of IT Policy also refers violations to the Judicial Administrator. Mitrano noted that the RIAA is asking colleges to monitor use of their private networks, but is unable to ask commodity networks, such as AT&T and Verizon, to do the same. The RIAA might be trying to see “just how far they can push the boundaries of ISP liability,” Mitrano said.

A Cornell freshman who recently received notification from the RIAA of potential legal action said, “I think its unfair that I was singled out, because I was picked out for one song, especially considering that there are tons of kids at Cornell who use LimeWire much more than I do. I think there should be a better way to track the illegal use without violating someone’s privacy and rights as a student and a person.”

For now, students at colleges seem to be the target for the new legal process, even though, according to Mitrano, file-sharing is much more prevalent in the general public than in higher education. With this proactive stance, however, the RIAA hopes to put an end to the copyright infringement that has become commonplace across the internet.

Francesca Morency ’09, a member of Cornell’s Nothing But Treble a capella group, said “On one hand, music sharing means less CD sales for us, but, on the other hand, having people listen to our music on music sharing programs give us more concert ticket sales from impressed and intrigued listeners.”