Illegal downloads bring lawsuits for 10

Christopher Hook

Ten Kent State students are facing lawsuits from the Recording Industry Association of America as a result of illegal music downloading.

This comes after nine students settled with the RIAA, paying a standard $3,000 settlement after the RIAA sent 19 pre-litigation settlement letters to the university in mid-April.

More than half of American college students download music illegally, according to a recent report by the Student Monitor. These students accounted for more than 1.3 billion illegal music downloads in 2006 alone.

The university is not releasing the names of the ten students facing lawsuits.

Protecting students

The RIAA recently stepped up efforts to identify and punish some of the 2.5 million college students who download movies and music illegally every year.

Carol Crimi, senior legal attorney for Student Legal Services, said college campuses have become one of the main targets for the RIAA since its initiative began in February 2007.

“It is an easy-to-reach, massive piece of the population,” she said.

After a student is served with a letter of notice, he or she has 20 days to settle with the RIAA.

If a student does not settle in 20 days, the RIAA may file suit against him or her.

In order to obtain that person’s identification, the association goes to court to get a subpoena, which could force the university to hand over information leading to the user’s identity.

One of the main issues concerning the university is determining if each subpoena is properly issued, Crimi said.

Under the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act, the university has a responsibility to protect the identity of a student, Crimi said. But it must also balance its responsibility to adhere to the law.

Crimi said subpoenas can be challenged, but that “I didn’t know I was doing this” is not an excuse.

Penalties may be as low as $750 per work infringed, or as high as $150,000.

Identifying downloaders

The RIAA, which represents most of the major record labels, catches those downloading illegally by monitoring many of the popular file-sharing Web sites such as Kazaa and LimeWire. Users’ IP addresses are easily identifiable, but their names and other specific information are unknown.

When the RIAA attempts to find illegal downloaders on college campuses, it asks universities to serve letters of notice to the students associated with the IP addresses in question. Users can then settle with the association to avoid escalating action from the RIAA.

Rebecca Greenberg, National Director of the Recording Artists’ Coalition, an agency dedicated to defending music artists’ rights, said illegal downloading doesn’t just hurt the record labels.

“A lot of people think it’s just the labels,” she said. “There are a lot of people behind the scenes who are being hurt. The artist, the songwriters, side vocalists, side musicians. These people aren’t being paid when their music is stolen.”

Kent State ranks 17th on the RIAA’s list of top college offenders.

Disseminating information

Because the IP address identifies the computer and not the user, the person owning the computer may not be the person doing the downloading.

“To me, that is one of the big issues,” Crimi said. “You can analogize it to municipalities who set up cameras to ticket drivers. I don’t know how they are going to prove that person is the user.”

Crimi will meet with Kent State technology analysts Daniel Roberts and Kimberly Price later this week to come up with an information initiative to inform students about the cost of music downloading and the procedure they should follow if contacted by the RIAA.

A brochure detailing the potential liability in downloading and sharing files will be available for students this fall. For now, Crimi advises students to come to her office in McDowell Hall for help and to remain anonymous.

“We want to gather the facts and advise them accordingly,” she said.

Contact news correspondent Christopher Hook at

[email protected].