July 6, 2004

Online music pirates sued


By Eric Rangus

A recent lawsuit by the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) to combat the illegal sharing of music over the Internet has ensnared members of the Emory community.

In late April the recording industry sued 477 computer users, including dozens from universities across the United States. Nine of those cases are at Emory. Since last summer the RIAA has sued nearly 2,500 people. None of the cases has gone to court, but nearly 500 people have agreed to pay financial settlements of about $3,000 each.

Emory was served a subpoena on June 21 to turn over information regarding on-campus Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that the RIAA says were used for illegal file sharing.

 "We have already alerted the students whose IP ports have been identified, just in case they want to file objections in court before we have to turn over the information," said General Counsel Kent Alexander. "So far, though, I have not heard of any similar objections succeeding elsewhere," he said.

The cases are known as "Doe" lawsuits, in that the defendants are identified only by their IP addresses. Those addresses, however, leave footprints that organizations such as RIAA can track. Emory's Information Technology Division (ITD), which does not track its users' activities, does have records of these IP addresses and is required by law to turn them over if subpoenaed.

"There is also a complimentary need for enforcement by copyright owners against the serious offenders to remind people that this activity is illegal," said RIAA President Cary Sherman.

"There is nothing new about the contents of this subpoena," said Deputy General Counsel Steve Sencer. "The record industry has been going after illegal file traders for more than a year," Sencer added that this is the first time Emory has received such a subpoena but that it might not be the last--if some Emory users continue to download music files illegally.

Last year ITD added a filter that partially curbed illegal file trading--at one point the University servers were so clogged with trading that usage was affected. Still, the filter did not eliminate the problem.

However, that doesn't mean the University is going to clamp down on Internet usage. The community will have to take responsibility for itself.

"We're trying to walk a fine line," Sencer said. "We're not going to track what you're doing, but we also don't want to give the impression that we condone illegal file trading. We don't."

"The bottom line is not to do this," Alexander said. "We will stand up for students as much as we can, but when you break the law, at the end of the day you are on your own."