Students accused of pirating music

Thou shalt not steal. And now, thou shalt not share – unless one plans to pay a fancy fee.Last week TCU was one of 19 colleges to receive pre-litigation letters from the Recording Industry Association of America related to illegal music sharing and downloading.

Cara Duckworth, spokeswoman for RIAA, said RIAA has been sending pre-litigation letters to campuses every month since February. She said pre-litigation letters are the first step to a three-step disciplinary action against piracy.

“We send out the pre-litigation letters informing faculty that we have the students’ information and allowing students to come forward to get the most discounted price settlement,” Duckworth said. “The second time, we issue the school a subpoena to give the specific names. The third time, if we don’t hear back, individuals face the full-priced lawsuit.”

Duckworth said copyright law traditionally charges $750 in damages for each song or pirated media. Reportedly, settlements in copyright cases typically range from $3,000 to $5,000 and the earlier the defendant responds, the less they pay.

Duckworth said at TCU there was evidence of 20 instances this month of illegal downloading using different IP addresses.

“We have an illicit online team who logs on as just another user to capture IP addresses,” Duckworth said. “From there they capture a representative of files shared and a time stamp – everything but the individual’s name.”

Brooke Scogin, assistant dean of Campus Life, said TCU administrators had only received seven letters since Aug. 30. She said all seven students were informed of the letters but only five had taken care of the situation because two were not enrolled.

Scogin said RIAA contacted technical services about the illegal downloading.

The vice chancellor for student affairs, dean of Campus Life and provost decided because the students were in violation of the Code of Student Conduct, e-mails would be sent from Campus Life, Scogin said.

Scogin said she personally sent out letters to the students and attached the settlement letter from RIAA. The e-mails she sent explained what was happening and informed the students of the consequences, Scogin said.

“The first time is a warning,” Scogin said. “We shut down the students’ Internet and they must schedule an appointment with us before it is turned back on. With the second violation we have the right to disable access for the remainder of the semester, recommend community service or put the individual on probation.”

Scogin said after each first-time violation, TCU requires students to e-mail 20 friends about the dangers of illegally downloading.

“Our main goal is to educate the student,” Scogin said.

Andrew Wilson, a senior accounting major, said after getting caught his freshman year for downloading “The Chronicles of Riddick,” he is familiar with TCU’s procedures.

“Going through TCU is a nightmare of a slap on the wrist,” Wilson said. “They cut off my Internet service and called me thirty minutes later requesting a meeting.”

Wilson said he can laugh about it now, but at the time it was a scary experience.

Colin Mailloux, associate of the general counsel at the University of South Florida, said this is the university’s third time to be issued letters by RIAA. He said this time USF received 43 letters.

Mailloux said students come to college having downloaded illegal content at home and get caught when someone sees infringement of copyrighted material.

“The difference from doing it at home is we have a network that can easily identify them,” Mailloux said.

College students are the biggest group who pirate copyrighted material, according to the RIAA Web site.

Duckworth agreed.

“I think colleges have the easiest means to pirate music and movies,” Duckworth said. “The problem of piracy is particularly acute on college campuses because they come to school and have more freedom, huge networks and they think they are anonymous.”

Duckworth said any services facilitating illegal distributing of files that copyright owners have not given permission to use are considered illegal.

Duckworth said RIAA created a “best practices” document for institutions with piracy problems. She said the document is a “road map for schools to follow” with IT and enforcement policies aimed at reducing piracy.

Mailloux said representatives of USF have already taken actions to educate students about the negative effects of downloading, including active disciplinary and educational processes.

“With the first offense, Internet access is cut off until the individual goes in for counseling,” Mailloux said. “Stronger disciplinary actions are taken the second time around.”

Mailloux said he thinks students within the 18 to 25 demographic need to know that downloading illegally is equivalent to stealing.

“Personally, I think RIAA could get the message across with a lower dollar amount,” Mailloux said. “I don’t think anybody agrees with their tactics, however, they’re doing the right thing.”

Scogin said she hopes students realize the severity of the situation before it gets out of hand.

“Some choose to settle and some choose to wait it out,” Scogin said. “I can’t advise them of what to do legally.”

Duckworth said she wishes things could be different.

“We don’t want to be suing students,” Duckworth said. “But since the music industry has started to suffer, we can no longer turn a blind eye.