Monday, May 26, 2008

Recording Industry Association Of America Attempting To Gouge "Settlements" Out Of 12 University Of Utah Students For Music "Piracy"

The music industry is tightening its grips on University of Utah students who they believe have pirated songs. Last week, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry, notified the university of its intent to sue individuals who it contends have illegally shared copyrighted music. Full story published by the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and the University of Utah's Daily Utah Chronicle.

Attorneys for the RIAA have sent 12 "notifications of copyright infringement claims" requesting that U. officials deliver the message to the alleged individual(s), who to this point remain unknown, said U. spokeswoman Coralie Alder. "We certainly are not acting as an agent for the RIAA, but we are cooperating in sending out a notice," she said, adding that similar letters go out to students at campuses all over the country on a regular basis.

The RIAA initially files lawsuits against "John Doe" defendants, based on their Internet addresses. Recording industry lawyers then work through the courts to learn the name of the defendant. The process can result in expensive legal fees for the record labels. The letter, issued by Denver law firm Holme Roberts & Owen, offers early settlement "for a substantially reduced dollar amount." Association officials have said they can offer lesser negotiated settlements to those who respond to the letters because they avoid the time and cost of litigation. However, for a college student, these "settlements" can still be rather steep, averaging $3,000 to $4,000.

If the alleged infringers do not come forward, the university could be the subject of a subpoena or court order. The Office of General Counsel has said it will not share any information about any campus member without receiving such legal action.

Infringers who contact the RIAA attorneys are being told they will be given an opportunity to settle out of court. If no one admits to sharing copyrighted music in a "short" amount of time, the RIAA will go ahead and file suit, according to the letter. The University itself is not a party to any potential litigation; it's just merely passing the message along.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the RIAA has won one case involving campus members. The defendant was ordered to pay $220,000, but that case may be retried and could be overturned.

"These things are happening all over the country," Alder said. "It's hard to know who's doing what." The U. is one of nearly 200 colleges and universities to be targeted by the RIAA since early last year. In December 2007, a Utah State University (USU) student was targeted by RIAA for a settlement demand, even though he removed downloaded music when first notified of the problem by USU.

Nationally, the number of RIAA pre-litigation letters has soared in recent months, with as many as 569 in April alone, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Industry critics find the timing suspicious because Congress, which is fine-tuning its overdue reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, is currently weighing whether to require colleges to step up piracy-enforcement efforts. The RIAA, however, dismisses any link, saying the association's vendors have improved their ability to detect file-sharing piracy, resulting in an increase of litigation threats.

The notice to the U of Utah campus refers individuals to a website containing information on Peer to Peer file sharing.

But some students are now beginning to fight back. In December 2007, we learn that student attorneys at the University of Maine School of Law's Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, under the supervision of law school prof Deirdre M. Smith, have moved to dismiss the RIAA's complaint in a Portland, Maine, case, Arista v. Does 1-27, on behalf of two University of Maine undergrads. Their reply brief (PDF) points to the US Supreme Court decision in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, and the subsequent California decision following Twombly, Interscope v. Rodriguez, which dismissed the RIAA's 'making available' complaint as mere 'conclusory,' 'boilerplate' 'speculation.'"

But, believe it or not, the RIAA is preparing to ratchet up the ante. Read HERE about how they're getting their allies in Congress to run interference for them by sponsoring HR4279, which would make it easier to seize personal computers of those who illegally download even one song.

There is absolutely no reason for the RIAA to be gouging $3,000 per settlement. This shows how the laws disproportionately benefit the rich in this country. If you think that America offers a fair shake to everyone, then you obviously have been sniffing too much jenkem. That America died after Ronald Reagan left office.

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