Universities are not RIAA’s watchmen

In July, Senator Harry Reid (D – Nev.) put forth a new amendment to the Higher Education Act. Had it been passed, it would have required the top 25 schools that use peer-to-peer file sharing networks to enforce anti-downloading technology across campus. This means that universities would have been legally required to fight illegal downloading and report on the measures taken to the MPAA and the RIAA (who would have maintained the top-25 list).

Although the amendment was dropped, issues remain. As Charles Nesson and John Palfrey, two members of the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, wrote in a letter in June, “Universities should have no part in this extraordinary process.” They go on to implore that universities across the country not respond to the RIAA’s “early settlement” letters requesting students’ names because they are under no obligation to do so. Carnegie Mellon should heed their suggestions.

Carnegie Mellon is one of the universities that received a pre-litigation notice and has since received 13 “early settlement” letters. Does Carnegie Mellon have a legal obligation to hand over those 13 names to the RIAA? No.

You might ask how many letters Harvard has received since Nesson and Palfrey’s letter was published. Zero.

The RIAA, even with the massive monetary and legal cachet that it holds, is intimidated by actual legal battles. How many court cases has the RIAA won in the last four years against illegal downloaders? Also zero, but their first jury trial is set to begin next Tuesday, so stay tuned.

At this point it seems likely that the RIAA is going to have to distinctively change its strategies. Forcing college students (or more realistically, their parents) to give up a few thousand dollars isn’t going to fix anything in the long run. We want Carnegie Mellon to stand up with Harvard and agree that a university is not a policeman for the recording industry. The best way to knock down a bully is to simply stand up to them, a truth Harvard Law has clearly proven.