RIAA Trains Anti-Piracy Guns on Universities

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has stepped up its initiative aimed at college students in an attempt to make some impact on illegal file-sharing and downloading.

An RIAA spokesman said that the trade association has been “informing universities” about the problems of illegal file sharing and “encouraging them to take steps to do something about it.”

The latest initiative comes after RIAA’s legal win, in which a court ordered Verizon to comply with an RIAA request to flush out an individual who allegedly made available more than 600 copyrighted music files over the Internet. Today, Verizon filed a motion to stay the court order.

With that win under its belt, the RIAA is now taking its case directly to students. The Indiana University (IU) digital campus newspaper on Thursday reported that about 175 students were told by university officials to delete music and movie files from their computers after receiving word from the RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America that users of IU’s network were illegally distributing copyrighted material.

At IU, the students were reportedly told that if they refused to comply, they would have their Internet access shut off by the university and would be reported to a judicial board.

The RIAA and other trade groups sent a letter to nearly 2,300 colleges last October seeking the cooperation of university computer network administrators in its bid to eliminate illegal file-sharing. And on Nov. 21, the U.S. Naval Academy seized almost 100 computers from students suspected of downloading unauthorized copies of songs from the Internet.

“Not only is it wrong and illegal, it’s having a profound impact on the computer networks at universities — in essence hijacking college networks,” the spokesman said. “But we are not asking a specific college to impose a specific remedy — we are leaving that up to the individual colleges… we understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”

One of the major concerns of a number of college students appears to be that the RIAA has recently begun to target individual users of song-swap services. That has incurred the wrath of music fans who view the big record labels as the bullying corporate titans who brought down file-swap services like Napster.

Meanwhile the RIAA Web site is still being victimized by a DoS attack that began earlier this week, and it seems fairly obvious that the RIAA’s anti-piracy stance and its legal actions have angered enough hackers to prompt such a campaign. Such attacks, as well as defacements, have been coming off and on since last summer.

Both the FBI and the Secret Service are said to be investigating the attack on the RIAA.

“It’s pathetic that those who want free music don’t believe in free speech,” said Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the RIAA. “We are still working to get the Web site restored.”

Although the RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America (its concern, of course, is illegal DVDs) have consistently beaten the file-sharing services such as Napster in court, file-trading services, such as Kazaa, continue to oppose them.

The Verizon case, which the company is appealing, has raised the specter of college kids being led away in handcuffs for doing what most of them think is virtually a natural-born right — downloading — or pirating, or stealing, depending on your point of view — music and films over the Internet.

Asked specifically whether the RIAA is planning to go after individuals suspected of illegal file swapping, an RIAA spokesman would say only that “we are not commenting on any prospective enforcement steps we may take, but it’s important to know that downloading a copyrighted work off the Internet is illegal.”

“File traders have taken comfort in anonymity,” RIAA President Cary Sherman has been quoted as saying. “They feel they can do whatever they want with no risk of consequences. This is an area where being nice doesn’t do the trick.”

The RIAA, of course, is on the warpath because of declining music sales, a phenomena that just this week, for instance, prompted the launch of a real-world retailer-driven digital music consortium.

In 2002, music sales were reportedly down 25 percent . And that decline in real-world music sales obviously has bricks and mortar retailers feeling the pain. Wherehouse filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week, and Best Buy has said it will close more than 100 of its Musicland stores.

Meanwhile, the legal wrangling just goes on and on. Sharman Networks Ltd., the parent of the Kazaa song-swapping service, this week counter-sued the RIAA, claiming it is engaging in “anti-competitive behavior.”