RIAA calls more students on illegal downloads

Illegal downloading by college students has once again moved into the spotlight at colleges and universities nationwide. Last Wednesday, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began apprehending college students for illegal music downloading at a rate more than three times higher than the previous academic year.

The increase is part of the group’s new strengthened anti-piracy campus initiative program.

“We recognize that the nature of online music theft is changing, and we need to adjust our strategies accordingly,” said Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the RIAA, in a February 28 press release.

RIAA members are responsible for creating, manufacturing, and distributing over 90 percent of all music in the United States. The association’s job is to protect the intellectual property rights of its members. The RIAA’s first step in a series of stringent new initiatives is to identify college students and faculty members who are violating these rights by illegally downloading music.

Over 400 students and personnel at 13 colleges and universities across the nation received pre-litigation settlement letters from the RIAA.

Ohio University topped the list with 50 such letters. North Carolina State University, Syracuse University, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst were next on the list with 37 apiece. Other top contenders include the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of South Florida, with 36, 33, and 31 letters, respectively.

Ohio University and the University of Nebraska – Lincoln are experiencing their second year on the copyright infringement blacklist.

Although Carnegie Mellon was not among the schools on the RIAA’s list, the university’s Office of Information Security has reported an increase in the cease and desist orders it has received from various copyright holders.

“These [orders] have risen steadily over the past year,” said Mary Ann Blair, director of information security. “In January, the Information Security Office received 56 orders, and this month we received 122.”

While the RIAA has been filing user lawsuits since July 2003, the efforts have not stopped students from illegally downloading. Now, the RIAA has been forced to step up its procedures.

The new plan will focus on users of Ares and Gnutella-based networks such as LimeWire. It will also encourage college campuses to strictly enforce their punishment policies as well as maintain technological devices to apprehend guilty students.

While Carnegie Mellon has shown no signs of changing its punishment policies for such actions, the university remains committed to apprehending all the students who are guilty.

“In accordance with published policies and guidelines, the Computing Services’ information security [department] suspends systems identified in a credible cease and desist order for 45 days and notifies the registered system owner,” Blair said.

Federal law mandates that universities that are notified that their students are illegally distributing copyrighted songs must act to stop repeat offenders or risk being sued, according to a February 26 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

A first-year theater major was recently caught downloading illegal music via Carnegie Mellon’s wireless network.

“The measures just proved to be really annoying,” the student said. In accordance with university policy, the student was denied access to the network for 45 days. In the meantime, she was forced to set up a new wired network or rely on her friends’ computers.

However, the way in which students are reprimanded for such offenses varies between schools.

Administrators at the University of Michigan, for example, claimed that they rarely notified students who are flagged by the RIAA because it’s too difficult to track down every offender, according to the Post-Gazette article. The university reported that none of the students become a repeat offender.

The RIAA is working toward preventing future punishment of college students by increasing awareness among young adults. The organization supports programs like i-SAFE, Close Up, and Young Minds Inspired that inform students of the risks associated with illegal downloading.

“These new efforts aim to help students recognize that the consequences for illegal downloading are more real than ever before,” stated Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, in the press release.

Although strict in its stipulations, the initiative contains a clause allowing students to avoid the possibility of a lawsuit by the RIAA.
This “amnesty” policy offers students the chance to sign admissions of guilt in return for an assurance that they will not be sued by RIAA agencies.

However, while the amnesty offers protection from the RIAA, it does not necessarily protect individuals against civil lawsuits or criminal prosecution. For this reason, many remain skeptical of the policy, which is one of the initiative’s key components.

“[The RIAA] doesn’t own any copyrights, and its member labels aren’t bound by this arrangement. This means that you could still be sued by the major record labels that fund the RIAA, songwriters, or any other copyright holders. Plus, the RIAA would almost certainly turn over this information in response to any valid subpoena,” according to the official website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The EFF, founded in 1990, is a nonprofit agency defending users’ digital rights. The organization criticizes the policies of copyright owners and larger organizations in the recording industry, including the RIAA.

Despite the efforts of these groups, the RIAA has continued to strengthen its enforcement policies.

The RIAA has launched a new website, (, to increase awareness of the new policies and serve as an informational resource for individuals facing lawsuits.

Additionally, the company has developed an educational advertisements to be printed in college and university newspapers, which are expected to appear in the coming weeks.

The newspaper ads are meant to complement the RIAA’s launch last fall of an orientation video that universities can screen to warn students about the consequences of illegal downloading. The video is available at (

As of July 2006, RIAA has sued over 20,000 music fans, including college students, for illegal file sharing.
There are many ways to avoid being one of them.

Students and administrators should not share files, which many do unknowingly. Most downloading clients offer users the option to turn off sharing. Students can also disable sharing by changing the options on their computers.

Of course, the foolproof way to avoiding punishment is to download digital music legally through accredited clients — or not to download at all.

Correction: The name of the Carnegie Mellon student quoted in this article was removed to protect the student's privacy.