GA Discusses RIAA Lawsuits and File Sharing

Richie DeMaria

Information Technology Services (ITS) faculty visited the General Assembly on Thursday, November 1 to answer students’ questions about the recent pre-litigation settlements between the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and 19 Oxy students, and clarify Oxy’s role in the matter.

“This has nothing to do with Oxy; this is between you and the RIAA,” Vice President of Communications and Information Technology Pamela McQuesten said. According to McQuesten, ITS functions as a messenger for students. The RIAA monitors IP addresses on college campuses to log illegal activity, and sends pre-litigation settlement letters to the offending institution. ITS receives these notices and forwards them to the suspected students.

“They send take-down notices to us, saying that someone on this IP network was sending this file on this date at this time, and we send it to the student,” McQuesten said. “We do not send your name to RIAA.”

The matter may only be taken to court if a student chooses not to pay the pre-litigation settlement within 20 days. Because ITS does not disclose the identities of targeted students, the RIAA will file a lawsuit against an anonymous student until they obtain their identity by filing a subpoena against the school.

Oxy is bound by the Online Copyright Infringment Liability Limitations Act (OCILLA), which requires ITS to respond to subpoenas demanding the identity of file sharing users. Oxy must comply with OCILLA in order to be granted safe harbor against copyright infringement claims. If Oxy did not hold its students accountable, then the entire student body would have to assume the combined cost of illegal file sharing activity.

“There’s no institutional support from Oxy,” McQuesten said. The reason being, she said, is that the school believes that file-sharing technology can be used for legal, beneficial purposes.

“We want to provide you access to all technologies trusting that you won’t use it to do illegal things,” she said.

Settlements have averaged around $3,000 per sharing violation. “If you want to reduce the settlement, a lawyer isn’t where you want to go—an arbitrator may be more likely to help,” Director of Networking, Operations and Systems Ethan Bearman said.

The RIAA does not have to prove that students engaged in illegal activity in order to level infringement claims against them, Bearman explained. “They don’t actually have to prove you downloaded these songs; they just have to prove you made them available,” he said.

ITS uses a Network Access Control (NAC) system, which requires users to enter a username and password in order to use the network. The NAC system pairs each user with an IP address; without an IP address, students could not use the network.

ITS also clarified what constitutes illegal activity. “If you’re downloading music [without paying], or rip it off a CD, it’s illegal,” Bearman said. “With P2P networks, [the service] will search your computer and make it available to anyone else on the network.”

Bearman pointed out that though P2P networks aren’t necessarily illegal in themselves, they can be used for illegal activity. “There’s nothing illegal about Limewire,” he said. “It’s only when you share copyrighted material that it’s illegal. Very little music is in the public domain.”

Though a student may not be actively sharing files, having a P2P program on their computer is enough to put them at risk. “Any time you’re logged onto the P2P network, your music library is available to the world without your knowledge,” McQuesten said.

The University of Oregon recently filed a motion to squash a subpoena issued by the RIAA, on the grounds that the University does not have sufficient evidence to verify the identity of the alleged students. Oregon’s Attorney General, on behalf of the University, deemed the subpoena “unduly burdensome and overbroad” for demanding information the school could not readily present. The case is believed to be the first instance of a university rejecting an RIAA subpoena with support from an Attorney General.

When asked if ITS could protect students by concealing their behavior or changing their IP address, Network Security Specialist Wesley Tomatsu responded, “Privacy certainly is your right—anonymity isn’t. Even if you change your IP address, you’ll still get caught.”

Despite the lawsuits, the RIAA is unlikely to continue their business policy for much longer, McQuesten said. “Do I think this is going to last for decades? No,” she said. “Does the business model have to change? Yes. The internet has wrecked havoc on our idea of information. It’s not tangible anymore.”

Until then, though, students need not drop their guard, Bearman said. “I would caution anyone from thinking the storm is over,” he said.

ASOC President Ryan Bowen (senior) offered the free music service Ruckus as a legal alternative to illegal file sharing networks. “Ruckus is kind of like Napster for the whole campus,” he said.

In the end, the best thing students can do to avoid receiving a settlement letter is to cease illegal activity. “There is no safety net here,” McQuesten said. “Fundamentally, you need to pay for your music legally. We aren’t completely comfortable with where copyrights are—but it’s the law.”

Students with more questions are advised to contact ITS at helpdesk@oxy.edu or visit the ITS office in the first floor of the Library.

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