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MTU President Irked by RIAA Lawsuit

The Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) decision to slap lawsuits on file-swappers at three U.S. universities has been met with an angry retort from the president of the Michigan Technological University (MTU).

In a letter to RIAA boss Cary Sherman, MTU's Curtis Tompkins accused the association of turning a blind eye to the school's efforts to curb illegal file-sharing within its network and hinted that the RIAA was more interested in lawsuits and publicity.

The MTU's Joseph Nievelt was sued along with Daniel Peng of Princeton and Jesse Jordan and Aaron Sherman from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for operating "Napster-like internal campus networks" that aided the theft of copyrighted songs. The RIAA is seeking damages of $150,000 per song traded on the networks.

However, the school's president argues that the association did not make good on promises to work together to stamp out illegal file sharing within its network.

"I believe that we would not be facing this situation with Joseph Nievelt today had we been able to gain your help in providing additional information to our student body. We have cooperated fully with the RIAA, but in recent months, have not seen the same from your organization," Tompkins said in his letter.

You have obviously known about this situation with Joe Nievelt for quite some time. Had you followed the previous methods established in notification of a violation, we would have shut off the student and not allowed the problem to grow to the size and scope that it is today," he added.

Clearly irked that the RIAA had filed its lawsuit before giving MTU a chance to act on the information, Tompkins said, "I am very disappointed that the RIAA decided to take this action in this manner. As a fully cooperating site, we would have expected the courtesy of being notified early and allowing us to take action following established procedures, instead of allowing it to get to the point of lawsuits and publicity."

He said the MTU had been a partner with the RIAA on education campaigns on copyright laws, adding that the university had put programs in place school students on responsible use of the Internet and its technologies with respect to intellectual property issues.

"We have procedures in place to deal with situations when we are properly notified through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). We cooperate fully with all DMCA requests by suspending the connection of the offending machine and moving the offender through a disciplinary process in the Office of Student Affairs," he explained.

More worrying, Tompkins noted, is the fact the RIAA refused to respond to several MTU queries relating to reference material and procedures. "Our Information Technology department contacted your office twice by phone (leaving messages for Jonathon Whitehead) and three times by e-mail in an effort to update our reference materials and procedures with you. Your organization responded to none of these messages," he declared.

Tompkins accused the RIAA of trivializing the legal proceedings and describing the relationship between the association and the school as a "bump in the road."

In its lawsuit filed earlier hits month, the RIAA alleged that the students operated P2P networks and also shared thousands of copyrighted-protected songs on software known variously as Flatlan, Phynd or Direct Connect. "All of them work much like Napster, centrally indexing and processing search requests for copyrighted works. And they permit users to download any of those works with the single click of a mouse," the trade group said.

"The targeted systems operate similar to the pirate peer-to-peer network Napster," the group said. "But instead of being open to anyone with access to the Internet, they reside on a specific college's internal computer network, known also as a local area network," the RIAA said.

The lobby group first trained its anti-piracy guns on the college community in January, issuing a warning to 2,300 college administrators that internal networks were being used by illegal file traders.

It has also locked horns with Verizon over a demand that the name of a Verizon subscriber who allegedly downloaded more than 600 copyrighted music files be provided. A U.S. district court ruled that Verizon must comply with a subpoena requesting the name of the subscriber but Verizon has filed for a stay.