RIAA continues aggressive crackdown

After warning over 100 students, fining eight and suing one, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) continues its crackdown on Williams students as part of its aggressive campaign against illegal uploading of copyrighted material. Despite the minimum $3000 fine now associated with using programs such as Limewire, illegal file sharing remains widespread on campus. This has prompted a flood of letters from the RIAA that threaten legal action.

In September alone, 13 students were caught file sharing by the RIAA, compared with six students last September. These students risk receiving early settlement letters, which allow offenders to settle infringement charges before the RIAA files formal lawsuits. Of the nine students who have received letters, eight have chosen to settle, and the Office for Information Technology (OIT) has received a subpoena requesting information for the student who has chosen not to settle. Settlement fees vary from $3000 to $5000, while court cases can cost $20,000 or more.

Starting in early March, the RIAA dropped its policy of warning college administrators of copyright infringement and began prosecuting first-time offenders. The move came as part of its broader campaign to target illegal file sharing on college campuses.

Despite numerous e-mails from OIT, students are not heeding warnings. “Many more students are caught by simply allowing their music to be uploaded by others,” said Chief Technology Officer Dinny Taylor. Taylor added that if illegal activity continues, the College may take preventive action. “If the level of illegal activity becomes intolerable, we might choose to discuss measures to curb peer-to-peer file sharing,” she said, adding that nothing will be done without first consulting the faculty and College Council.

Taylor also notes that students who purchase media legally may also be putting themselves at risk. “We had one person who purchased a TV show legally, but allowed it to be uploaded and distributed illegally,” she said. “Many students don’t realize that we receive notices from cable networks and the Entertainment Software Association in addition to the RIAA.”

Elizabeth Bacon ’09 was one of the nine students who settled with the RIAA last year. Shortly after a friend helped her install Limewire, Bacon was hit with a letter informing her of the RIAA’s intent to sue, unless Bacon settled for $3000. “My computer was taken off the network, and I had to go see Dinny Taylor,” she said. “[The RIAA] sent me a letter listing all the songs I downloaded.”

If Bacon did not settle, the RIAA threatened to sue for $750 per song. Bacon had downloaded a total of 173 songs illegally.

“People don’t realize that just because [the RIAA] didn’t catch you now doesn’t mean they won’t catch you later,” she said. Bacon also expressed frustration with the administration for not doing more to alert students to the dangers of illegal file sharing. “I think that people don’t really know what’s going on,” she said. “I don’t think an e-mail sends the message.”

Andrew Goldston ’09, however, finds little fault with the administration’s hands-off policy and considers it students’ responsibility to confront the issue. “If people are upset about this, they should go through the political process [against the RIAA],” he said.

Bacon warned students who continue to download music illegally that the risk of getting caught isn’t worth it. “Just buy the songs,” she said. “It’s cheaper.”