RealTime IT News

RIAA Steps Up P2P Legal Campaign

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) launched its back-to-school, anti peer-to-peer (P2P) campaign Tuesday with a national media briefing praising the efforts of a handful of colleges and universities to stop piracy. But Wednesday, the group showed its less friendly side, filing another 744 individual lawsuits for illegal file sharing.

The RIAA filed 592 John Doe lawsuits in Georgia, Missouri, California, New York, Texas, Kentucky, New Jersey and Wisconsin. An additional 152 legal actions were filed against named defendants who were identified through previous litigation and either declined or ignored efforts to settle with the RIAA.

The RIAA also announced it was expanding its range of targets. Lawsuits it has filed since last year primarily focused on users of popular P2P sites, such as Kazaa, Grokster and Morpheus. In today's action, the RIAA also included eDonkey and Limewire users.

The lawsuits come less than a week after a U.S. Appeals Court upheld a lower court decision, which ruled that the controversial P2P services are legal even if their users engage in illegal acts like copyright infringement.

"Just as enforcement strategies for street piracy adapt with changing circumstances, the same goes for combating piracy online," RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement. "We are adjusting and expanding our efforts to target illegal file sharing on additional platforms like eDonkey and others. There will always be a degree of piracy, both on the street and online. But without a strong measure of deterrence, piracy will overwhelm and choke the creation and distribution of music."

P2P United's Adam Eisgrau, who heads the file-swapping service's Washington lobbying arm, called the new wave of lawsuits a "new spin on an old story. The message from the [music] industry is: sue you."

The RIAA did not immediately return inquiries regarding its latest legal blitz.

After last week's court decision, both Sherman and Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti stressed that, while the P2P technology may be legal, the courts have emphatically ruled that the copyright infringements of its users are not.

According to the RIAA, there has been an "extraordinary leap" in awareness about the law and the availability of legal online alternatives to P2P services during the past year.

Only a year ago, it was holding loaded revolver at universities, preparing to make them accountable for their students' illegal behavior. The RIAA was about to sue thousands of individuals for copyright infringement, many of whom were students using university networks, which made the schools liable.

In response to the RIAA's heavy hand, universities amended their orientation sessions to include copyright infringement, and they changed discussions and personal conduct codes to stiffen penalties for students caught using school networks to illegally swap music. Administrations have distributed notices, posters and fliers educating students, faculty and staff on the potential legal liability for copyright infringement.

In some cases, universities joined forces with P2P sites in order to legitimate the practice of downloading music.

Penn State cut a deal with the reborn Napster to allow students unlimited downloads for a still undisclosed monthly fee to be paid by the university. Burning tracks to a CD, though, will cost an extra 99 cents per track, which is to be paid by the student. Since the Penn State deal, 19 more schools have signed up for similar programs.

Tuesday, Sherman and Penn State University President Graham Spanier, who are co-chairmen of the Joint Committee of Higher Education and Entertainment Communities, were effusive in their praise of legitimate services being rolled out at 20 colleges and universities.

"Legitimate online services are a promising approach," Sherman told reporters. "A year ago, very few schools even viewed [copyright infringement] as a problem. Twenty is a pretty good number."

Spanier said students like the service, although neither he nor Sherman could provide data that the legitimate services have reduced P2P music swapping on college campuses.

"When we initially announced it, there were some students who weren't very supportive of it -- who'd rather not see any university funding used for this purpose. But those complaints have pretty much vanished," Spanier said. "Now what we have is students embracing the service, using it, and actually asking for additional enhancements."

Napster, Real Networks and Ruckus began hustling the schools with discounted music services with "tethered downloads." Apple has also offered to license its popular iTunes music store to college and universities.

"This is an extraordinarily promising trend that will only continue in the coming academic year," a Joint Committee of Higher Education and Entertainment Communities report to Congress states. "These programs have garnered substantial attention and many schools, even student groups, have formed task forces to determine whether legitimate services on campus are a viable alternative and which services might be right for them."

Meanwhile, the individual lawsuits continue unabated.