RIAA settles file-sharing suit
The $12,000 to $17,500 owed to the Recording Industry Association of America by four college students may seem like quite a burden. But when compared to the $100 billion sought in the original lawsuits for copyright infringement, a fine less than one year's tuition suddenly looks manageable.
In early April, the RIAA announced that it had filed lawsuits against four students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Michigan Technological University and Princeton University for operating illegal "Napster-like networks" which facilitated the illicit file-sharing of copyrighted materials.
The lawsuits included penalties of up to $150,000 per infringing song allegedly found on each network. However, the RIAA and the students settled the lawsuits this weekend for much smaller sums, ranging from totals of $12,000 to $17,500 in fines.
"We never expected or sought the full amount in the lawsuit," said Jonathan Lamy, spokesman for the RIAA. "We approached with the idea of hoping to settle for an appropriate sum that reflected the individuals' limited means while trying to sufficiently deter others from operating similar Napster-like networks."
According to Lamy, the RIAA wanted the settlements to be "fair and appropriate, but to send a message."
According to Dartmouth General Counsel Bob Donin however, if the RIAA files future lawsuits against copyright infringers and illegal network operators, the punishment could be more severe.
"Now that the RIAA has gotten the public's attention with the lawsuits, if they have to bring further suits to enforce compliance, I think you can predict larger payments," Donin said.
While Napster itself was permanently shut down after its bout with the recording industry, many other peer-to-peer file-sharing networks have continued to thrive, particularly on college campuses, where bandwidth is so large that transfers can be completed in seconds.
Lamy claims that records sales have decreased drastically, and the entire music industry has been hit hard because of illegal file-sharing over networks such as those operated by the four students in the RIAA lawsuits.
"Record companies and stores are seeing a decline in sales," Lamy said. "The companies are having to lay off employees, and stores are going out of business."
Lamy contends that "it's not pleasant that these lawsuits were necessary. There was no joy in it." Instead, the RIAA would prefer to work with the higher education community to prevent this kind of illegal file sharing from occurring in the first place.
"At an institution of higher education, students are meant to learn right from wrong," Lamy said. "And stealing copyrighted music is clearly wrong. We will not hesitate to enforce our rights if we learn of more such networks on college campuses, but we would hope that people would now think twice."
Though the students named in the lawsuit could not be reached for comment by The Dartmouth, the general sentiment, as reported in USA Today, was not of relief, but rather of continued frustration.
"We had everything on [the network], from school papers, data from experiments, photos students had taken. It was no different than Google," Daniel Peng, the Princeton student who received a fine of $12,000, told USA Today.
However, the RIAA disputes such claims of innocence. According to Lamy, the networks functioned as more than simple search engines since the four students were all sharing personal MP3 music files over the networks.
Despite the settling of the lawsuits, the RIAA has not let up on its anti-piracy work. According to Lamy, the anti-piracy program conducted by the RIAA is two-fold: "First of all is education and enforcement while simultaneously offering legitimate alternatives," Lamy said.
One such legal alternative that just reached the market was Apple's new Music Store, which operates out of the newly released iTunes 4 application. Through an agreement with many of the dominant record companies in the music industry, Apple created a legal online music store where songs and albums can be purchased for 99 cents and $9.99 respectively.
Through its first week of operation, the store has sold over one million songs and has received the ardent support of record companies seeking to fill the need for online music services.
"Record companies clearly understand there is a huge demand for listening to music online," Lamy said. "All anti-piracy work has the goal of trying to make legitimate online marketplaces as successful as possible. No business can be expected to compete against anything free."
But while the search for more illegal networks will continue, the RIAA would rather focus its efforts on other tasks.
"We would prefer to concentrate on making music, not lawsuits," Lamy said.