RIAA threatens 19 universities with lawsuits

Group launches ninth wave of "prelitigation" letters, offering students and personnel the chance to settle copyright infringement claims out of court "at a discounted rate."

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
3 min read

Updated at 12:03 p.m. PDT: Just in time to welcome many students back from fall break, the Recording Industry Association of America on Thursday dispatched a new round of "prelitigation" letters to 19 U.S. universities from coast to coast, alleging that campus networks are being used to commit copyright infringement.

For those keeping score at home, this marks the ninth time the RIAA has launched such an initiative.

As usual, each of the 411 letters reveals that a student or employee of the school is about to be sued for copyright infringement. The letters also offer the opportunity for those targeted to settle out of court at a "discounted rate," touting a special Web site that allows targets to settle their claims online.

Here's the list of schools affected this time around and the number of letters for each, according to the RIAA: Drexel University (17 letters), Indiana University (23), Northern Illinois University (25), Occidental College (19), State University of New York at Morrisville (18), Texas Christian University (20), Tufts University (15), University of Alabama (14), University of California at Berkeley (19), University of Delaware (18), University of Georgia (13), University of Iowa (18), University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (20), University of Nebraska at Lincoln (13), University of New Hampshire (30), University of New Mexico (17), University of South Florida (43), University of Southern California (37) and Vanderbilt University (32).

And here's a sample letter sent to an alleged illegal filesharer (PDF), courtesy of Educause, a nonprofit group that represents higher-education institutions and oversees the .edu domain.

The latest load of letters shows that the RIAA isn't letting up on its aggressive attempts to go after allegedly illicit file swapping on university campuses. To mark the start of the new school year, it also sent more than 400 letters to 22 universities last month. Over a four-month span earlier this year, the record industry targeted 1,600 individual students, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a well-known critic of the RIAA's legal tactics.

The RIAA, for its part, attempted to bolster its approach by citing figures from market research firm NPD Group that college students alone accounted for more than $1.3 billion illegal music downloads last year.

"This theft triggers a harmful domino effect throughout the music community--thousands of regular, working-class musicians and others out of work, record stores shuttered, new bands never signed," said Steven Marks, the RIAA's general counsel. "When faced with this reality, we have no choice but to hold those individuals responsible for ignoring the law and all the great new legal ways to get affordable, high-quality music."

Earlier this week, we reported that the RIAA was moving forward with a copyright case against 19 students at George Washington University. But as my colleague Declan McCullagh has pointed out, the RIAA's efforts to track down alleged culprits may be complicated by the length of time that individual universities keep records of their users' Internet Protocol address assignments.

Members of Congress have also gotten into the game again this year, threatening to enact new laws or to withhold funding from universities if administrators don't do more to police piracy on their networks.