New RIAA policy shifts responsibilities to universities

Students who download music illegally no longer have to fear being taken to court, but they are now much more likely to get caught and receive minor punishments from the university, a university official said.

Brooke Scogin, assistant dean of Campus Life, said that to enforce its new policy the Recording Industry Association of America has dramatically increased the number of reports it issues notifying Internet service providers of Internet piracy.

According to a December news release from the RIAA, the company will stop filing lawsuits against Internet users who illegally download music. Instead, according to the release, the RIAA will rely more heavily on ISPs like TCU to punish users who pirate music.

The university’s policy for dealing with Internet music piracy will remain the same despite the RIAA’s shift in strategy, Scogin said. The first time they are caught, students have their Internet access disconnected and must remove all file-sharing software from their computers. They must also forward a cautionary e-mail from Campus Life to 20 of their friends, Scogin said. This ensures that a wide range of students understands the risks of downloading music illegally, she said.

Once they have met these requirements, their Internet is reconnected, Scogin said.

Second-time offenders face similar punishments, but they may also be subjected to disciplinary action such as mandatory community service, Scogin said.

The university does not have a policy in place to deal with third-time offenders, she said, because there has never been one.

Liz Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the RIAA, could not be reached to comment on why the organization decided to change its policy.

According to a December article published in The Wall Street Journal, during the past five years the RIAA issued roughly 35,000 lawsuits against Internet users. On its Web site, the RIAA justified its lawsuits because it claimed these users violated the intellectual property rights of artists and caused detrimental financial damage to the industry.

The RIAA relies solely on Internet protocol addresses to track internet piracy, TCU executive director of technology Bryan Lucas wrote in an e-mail. An IP address is a numeric identification number given to each computer that accesses the Internet. This means that when the RIAA notifies TCU that a student is abusing the Internet, the RIAA does not know which student downloaded the music, Scogin said.

Because the RIAA cannot differentiate between users, some suits have been filed under bizarre circumstances. The Wall Street Journal reported that among the roughly 35,000 cases, suits were filed against several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl.

The university never provided student information to the RIAA unless it was subpoenaed, Scogin said.

Lawsuits filed by the RIAA can be expensive if the defendant loses. The United States copyright law grants artists the right to collect damages in court of no less than $750 for each pirated song downloaded.

Sophomore fashion merchandising major Rian Brooks said her family had to pay several thousand dollars to settle out of court after she was caught downloading music illegally last year. The settlement cost her family roughly 50 cents for every song they downloaded, Brooks said. Had her family lost in court, the damages would have been much higher.

Brooks and her family were surprised when they were reprimanded by the RIAA because they thought they were downloading music legally, Brooks said. They were using a LimeWire account they had paid for, she said.

Many students reprimanded by the RIAA believe they are acting within the law, Scogin said. But paying for programs does not ensure that they are operating legally, Scogin said, and iTunes is the only site whose legality she can guarantee.