RIAA sends Carnegie Mellon 13 pre-litigation letters in effort to curb illegal file sharing

On Sept. 20, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sent another wave of pre-litigation settlement letters to Carnegie Mellon and 21 other universities across the country. Carnegie Mellon received 13 of the 403 letters distributed.

These letters, which are part of the campaign against illegal downloading that the RIAA began a few years ago, were sent on behalf of the record companies represented by the RIAA.

The RIAA represents “some 90 percent of all legitimate sound recordings produced and sold in the United States” and aims “to protect the ability of the recording industry to invest in new bands and new music,” according to its website.

If found guilty, students are “generally given an option for a pre-litigation settlement. It is also not uncommon for some cases to go to court,” said Mary Ann Blair, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Information Security Office.

The litigation pro-cess is lengthy, but Carnegie Mellon “limits its processes to that of an Internet Service Provider (ISP),” said Blair. She explained that the university receives a letter with an Internet Protocol (IP) address of the alleged infringer and a claim that music was illegally accessed by that specific IP address.

After matching the IP address, the university forwards the letter to the student.

“The university, in no case, discloses any information about the student to any external organization unless a subpoena has been issued,” Blair said.

However, if the RIAA has issued a subpoena, “the university conveys student details to the RIAA,” said Lorrie Cranor, associate research professor in the School of Computer Science.

“[Carnegie Mellon does not] actively police each student. But the Information Security Office (ISO) attempts to educate the students about the risk of copyright infringement and strongly deters any methods that may be used to procure copyrighted material illegally,” Blair said.

“[Harvard has] no legal obligation to deliver the RIAA’s messages. It should do so only if it believes that’s consonant with the university’s mission,” wrote Harvard Law School professors Charles Nesson and John Palfrey on the website for the law school’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Nesson and Palfrey continued that Harvard should not be “willing to let commercial interests intrude.”

Blair and Cranor do not feel that Carnegie Mellon is ready to take similar action.

“[To do what Harvard did] is the decision of the Office of General Counsel,” said Blair. “Furthermore, that would be an important institutional decision requiring a great amount of thought and discussion.”

Cranor added that students’ behavior plays an equally large part in the process.

“Students have to be more aware and realize that they are responsible for their actions. Legal purchase of music is simply the easiest way to avoid getting in trouble,” she said.

Cranor also said that the university can further curb illegal downloading by issuing institutional subscriptions using the analogy of journals in the library.

Blair said that the subscriptions were “one of the many solutions being actively investigated” by the university.
“Students must realize that strategies such as this are not monetary but also technical burdens on the university,” she said.

Students are split on the issue.

“I don’t think people should download music illegally. It costs a lot of money to make and many jobs are at stake,” said Carlos Gasperi, a first-year computer science major.

“It is just so much more convenient to download a number instead of a whole album or watch a movie at my leisure rather than go out somewhere. Maybe a new business model is needed,” said Shazwan Azizan, a first-year economics major.

The university will continue to remind students of the dangers of illegal downloading.

“October will be security awareness month, when we shall try to address issues such as Internet safety and, of course, copyright infringement,” Blair said.

Cranor agreed that, given the actions of the RIAA, such measures will be beneficial to students.

“The RIAA is showing no signs of letting up, and so all I can do is urge everyone to use caution,” Cranor said.