November 7, 2008

Administrator Discusses File Sharing at S.A. Meeting

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The Student Assembly discussed the Recording Industry Association of America’s accountability policies for universities and student copyright infringement yesterday, during its weekly meeting in The Straight.
Polley McClure, vice president for information technologies, presented the issue to the S.A. As McClure explained, the RIAA is known for cracking down on campus communities for file sharing. The RIAA sends Digital Millenium Copyright Act notices to colleges when they discover incidents of file sharing infringement. This notice is a similar to a cease-and-desist letter, based on a 1998 Congressional measure that criminalizes multiple extents of copyright infringement and illegal file sharing. According to McClure, the University receives hundreds of these notices a year. [img_assist|nid=33395|title=Rules of the game|desc=Polley McClure, vice president for information technologies, speaks at yesterday’s S.A. meeting in the Straight about file sharing.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
However, if a student is identified to have committed an infringement on the Cornell network, the RIAA can also send a settlement letter to the University. Such letters ask the University to forward the letter to the offending student as the RIAA has no way of identifying the offender within the network. The settlement letter explains that the student will be subpoenaed unless he or she wishes to pay a settlement fee, usually amounting to several thousand dollars.
The “conundrum,” as McClure stated, lies in the fact that the University is “not legally engaged to forward the settlement letter.” There has been criticism that universities are too conducive to record companies “bullying” students into outlandish settlements for illegally- obtained copyright material.
The Administration has considered refusing to forward the settlement letters, as they have no bearing on the legal responsibilities of the University. However, it is unclear whether this notion would help or hurt students.
J. Anthony Miller ’10, vice president for international operations of the S.A., cited the previous experiences of students who have ignored settlement letters of their own will. Several have been prosecuted to the full extent of the law, often shelling out tens of thousands of dollars in the legal process.
Many representatives questioned the fairness of the industry’s ardent focus on universities rather than other network communities. The issue was assigned to the Cornell Information Technologies Committee of the S.A., and Ryan Lavin ’09, president of the S.A., expressed hope that the S.A. could help educate the undergraduate community about the risks of illegal file-sharing.
In addition to the discussion of the RIAA file-sharing notification policies, motions were passed to change the S.A. absentee policy so as to delineate between excused and unexcused absences, and to require that all S.A. members take a financial services test in the S.A. handbook.