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RIAA Sues College File-Swappers

The RIAA wasn't bluffing.

Following through on a threat to sue illegal file-swappers at universities nationwide, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has slapped four lawsuits against operators of what it described as "Napster-like internal campus networks" that aid in the theft of copyrighted songs.

Just months after seeking the cooperation of college administrators and sysadmins to eliminate the peer-to-peer networks from campuses, the association filed suits against two individuals from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and file-sharing operators at Princeton University, and Michigan Technological University.

The student operators were identified as Daniel Peng of Princeton, Joseph Nievelt at Michigan Technological University and Jesse Jordan and Aaron Sherman from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which is based in New York. The RIAA is seeking damages of $150,000 per song traded on the networks.

While it is impossible to accurately quantify how many songs are swapped among users, the RIAA's lawyers are expected to argue that millions of copyrighted songs have been downloaded and shared on the offending networks.

The RIAA alleged that the students 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.

Having already issued a warning about file-swapping at workplaces, it is a safe bet similar lawsuits could be filed against file-swappers who use the high-speed networks of Fortune 500 companies.

"More of these lawsuits are coming. The RIAA wants to show it isn't bluffing about going after specific individuals to send a message to the world at large," a legal source with knowledge of the RIAA's plans told internetnews.com.

Outgoing RIAA chief executive Hilary Rosen has already testified in Congress about the "growing epidemic" of file-sharing within campus networks, warning that a "substantial portion" of the 2.6 billion files that are downloaded illegally every month comes from college computer systems.

"The unauthorized P2P file sharing problem poses tremendous difficulties not only for copyright owners and artists, but also for administrators on our nations' college campuses," Rosen told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.

Now, the association has shifted into combat mode, albeit on a small scale. "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," it added.

"The court ruled that Napster was illegal and shut it down. These systems are just as illegal and operate in just the same manner. And just like Napster, they hurt artists, musicians, songwriters, those who invest in their work and the thousands of others who work to bring music to the public." RIAA president Cary Sherman declared.

"The people who run these Napster networks know full well what they are doing -- operating a sophisticated network designed to enable widespread music thievery. The lawsuits we've filed represent an appropriate step given the seriousness of the offense," Sherman declared.

In a statement accompanying the lawsuits, the RIAA said each of the accused operators helped to seed the services with hundreds -- and in some cases, thousands -- of copyrighted works. "And in fact, they often monitor the infringement and, in several instances, have publicly bragged about it."

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.