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
“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
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
“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.