The Recording Industry Association of America announced last month that it would no longer file mass lawsuits against illegal file sharers.
Instead, the RIAA said it would work with individual internet service providers to stem the flow of illegal music downloads on the internet.
Since the RIAA began filing lawsuits in 2003 the organization has opened litigation with tens of thousands of individuals, including students and faculty at UC Davis.
Sixty-eight students and staff at UC Davis have been threatened with lawsuits, said Jan Carmikle, Digital Millennium Copyright Act designated agent for UC Davis. Of these, 28 had lawsuits filed against them, while the rest probably settled out of court, typically for $3,000 in each case, Carmikle said.
Carmikle said the RIAA has also asked that UC Davis install software designed to block peer-to-peer file sharing programs often used for downloading music illegally. To date, however, the university has refused to do so.
“It’s not the right way to go to try to control illegal file sharing,” Carmikle said. “UC has chosen not to block peer-to-peer software for primarily first amendment and academic freedom reasons.”
Many students and researchers at UC Davis have found that peer-to-peer file sharing programs are the best way to transfer large data files and blocking these programs could make legitimate file sharing very difficult, she said.
The RIAA may now be focusing more on convincing ISPs to adopt policies that would discourage illegal file sharing, said Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an internet-focused non-profit public interest group. These agreements would usually involve suspending or terminating a user’s internet connection after repeated notices of illegal file sharing from the RIAA.
Lohmann suggested, however, that many ISPs are not willing to make these agreements.
“The ISPs have essentially said that there are no new deals in place,” Lohmann said. “Most ISPs have said that they do not terminate subscribers based on unproven allegations.”
Representatives from Comcast, which provides internet service to many Davis residents, declined to comment on whether or not any agreement is in place with the RIAA.
Brian Dietz, Vice President of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, an organization that represents Comcast along with other national ISPs, said he would be willing to work with the music industry.
“Cable company service contracts generally include prohibitions on the use of broadband service for unlawful activities, including piracy,” Dietz said.
UC Davis does have an agreement with the RIAA to suspend or terminate on-campus internet privileges, said associate director of Student Judicial Affairs Donald Dudley.
When the RIAA suspects someone of illegally sharing music files, they send a notice to the campus.
“When we receive one of those notices, we contact the person using the connection…and that person recieves a warning,” said Dudley.
The user’s internet access is suspended for 14 days. During this time the user has the opportunity to have the notice explained, and is warned to avoid future file sharing and told how file sharing might have happened inadvertently.
Upon the second notice, Dudley said the student or faculty member typically loses network access permanently.
Fred von Lohmann said the RIAA’s announcement may not mean a complete end to music sharing lawsuits. The RIAA will continue to pursue litigation against people they consider heavy file-sharers, and the thousands of lawsuits already begun will still be pursued.
JON GJERDE can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.