RIAA cracks down on copyright infringement at OU
Lilly Chapa, The Oklahoma Daily
While illegally downloading copyrighted material is free, it doesn’t come cheap to those who are caught.
Complaints made to OU about illegally downloaded content rose 540 percent in 2008, and 13 members of the OU community who downloaded illegally on OU’s network are in the settlement process with the Recording Industry Association of America.
There were 150 complaints in 2007 and 812 in 2008.
Using peer-to-peer software to download music without paying for it is punishable by law.
The RIAA acts as a watchdog group looking out for violators. It files lawsuits against the IP addresses of alleged illegal downloaders on behalf of the recording companies it represents.
Nijim Dabbour, The Oklahoma Daily
How students get caught
OU does not monitor the files students download, Nicholas Key, Information Technology spokesman, said.
“It is the responsibility of our students to comply with applicable laws,” Key said.
But he said students still should be cautious when illegally downloading music.
When people use peer-to-peer software, like Limewire, the program tracks the identities of the users and the files on the users’ hard drives available for sharing, Key said. This information is available to anyone on the peer-to-peer network. The RIAA searches peer-to-peer networks for files that infringe on copyrights.
The RIAA can’t access the OU network, but it monitors file-sharing networks on other networks. As a result, when a computer on the OU network is used to download a file illegally, RIAA scanning software flags the IP address of the offending computer, Key said.
The RIAA then reports the IP address and files a complaint with OU. At this point, OU must follow legal proceedings, Key said.
The process is complex, but it isn’t difficult for watchdog groups to get the information they need to file a complaint, Key said.
Even though users don’t know who they’re downloading from, their interactions with file-sharers are leaving electronic messages on networks across the country, allowing the RIAA to access information about activity on OU’s networks even though it can’t access the network itself.
“It’s like calling someone’s phone who lives in California and leaving them a voice mail,” Key said. “When the RIAA comes through, they listen to your voice mail and have all the information they need against a student.”
The legal process
The RIAA writes a pre-litigation letter to owner of the IP address once they find illegally downloaded music, said Liz Kennedy, RIAA deputy director of communications. The letter includes the IP address used, a time and date stamp, and a sample of the music downloaded.
The group gives the letters to the universities to pass along to violators. They have the option of settling with the RIAA or ignoring the letter, Kennedy said. If users choose to ignore the letters, the RIAA will begin “John Doe” lawsuits, she said.
Kennedy said the RIAA will subpoena the university to get names of students who use the IP addresses in question.
The RIAA will try again to reach settlements with students, but once lawsuits have been filed, discounted settlements will no longer be available, Kennedy stated in an e-mail.
After the suit involving OU’s network was filed in July, the RIAA has subpoenaed OU to release the names of 13 individuals’ associated with particular IP addresses. Of those, three individuals are still in litigation, Kennedy said.
Individuals can be charged a minimum fine of $750 per illegally downloaded song, said Jay Doyle, press secretary and special assistant to OU President David Boren.
But many college students don’t understand the consequences that can be attached to illegal file sharing.
A survey conducted by Student Monitor in the spring of 2006 found that more than half of all college students download music and movies illegally, Kennedy stated in an e-mail.
“It’s becoming a bigger issue outside of the university,” Key said. “Students are going to have to take notice or they will have to face the steep consequences.”