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

Just months after seeking the
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

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

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
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

Outgoing RIAA chief executive Hilary Rosen has already testified in
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

“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.

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