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

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.

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