In an apparent intensification of its campaign against college students who illegally share music online, the Recording Industry Association of America filed a new round of over 700 lawsuits last week that target almost three times the number of college network users as were sued in recent RIAA legal actions.

The 68 college network users who were sued include two individuals at Georgetown, according to Jonathan Lamy, director of communications at the RIAA. It is unknown whether the individuals are students, faculty or administrators, although past RIAA suits targeting Georgetown users have been directed predominantly toward students.

The new round of lawsuits involves users at 23 other colleges and universities, including Texas A&M University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Harvard University Medical School.

“Today’s university and college students are tomorrow’s leaders,” Steven Marks, general counsel at the RIAA, said in a RIAA press release. “In a world that is becoming more and more connected through the wonders of digital technology, students need to understand that just because someone else’s property or creations can be obtained easily and freely without anyone seemingly knowing, there are consequences because it is stealing.”

The past several rounds of RIAA lawsuits have targeted considerably fewer users at colleges and universities. A total of 70 college network users nationwide were sued in three rounds of lawsuits since October, a marked contrast to the 68 users sued in a single group of filings last week.

The lawsuits target users of peer-to-peer networks, such as LimeWire, Kazaa and Grokster, who illegally share copyrighted music files online. Individuals are listed in the lawsuit only as IP addresses – unique identifiers of computers connected to the Internet. The RIAA is likely to request court-issued subpoenas within the next several days, which would force universities to disclose the names of those associated with the targeted IP addresses.

In past lawsuits, students identified as parties to the lawsuit were sent letters offering out-of-court settlements which included both monetary damages and prohibitions on further illegal use of copyrighted materials. Because most settlements have been handled confidentially, the amount of monetary damages usually involved in such settlements is unknown, although a few high-profile settlements have included damages of several thousand dollars.

Lamy said out-of-court settlements would be offered to the individuals sued last week, although the terms of those settlements would depend on the specific circumstances of each case.

“Georgetown reviews all subpoenas served on the university and responds

appropriately, consistent with our legal obligations,” university spokeswoman Julie Bataille said. “When the specified [IP] address can be associated with a student, Student Affairs staff forward the notice to the individual student directly and confidentially, reminding the student of his or her responsibilities under the university’s Acceptable Use Policy and suggesting that the student contact his or her own legal counsel with any questions.”

Bataille also said the university has no immediate plans to implement a campus-wide legal music downloading system similar to those created by several colleges in the past year. She emphasized other university efforts to stem illegal downloads at Georgetown, such as a letter sent to all entering students, town hall meetings and reminders sent to the campus community by University Information Services.

Bataille said the university had not yet received any subpoenas related to the current action.

UIS has issued reports warning students of the dangers of using peer-to-peer networks, which can infect computers with viruses and possibly require a total erasure of a computer’s hard drive. UIS has also said that students do not need to actually share music on a network to become a target of a lawsuit, because their IP addresses can also be identified if they download music.

At least five Georgetown students were sued by the RIAA in the past year, and the number of warnings, or “take-down notices,” sent to individuals at Georgetown increased markedly in 2003-04, according to a UIS report on illegal file-sharing on campus.

Lindsay Chock (SFS ’07), who uses LimeWire, a popular peer-to-peer network to share and download music online, said that the RIAA’s apparent new focus on suing university network users was misguided.

“I understand why they’re doing it, but I think they’re targeting the wrong people,” Chock said. “I feel like mostly college students aren’t the ones distributing the illegal material.”

Matt Huppert (COL ’08), who shares music with others on his residence hall floor using the legal iTunes service, said he was “disappointed” by the new round of lawsuits.

“By targeting college students I think they’re trying to intimidate us and [make us] find new ways of getting music,” Huppert said. “Nothing scares a college student more than a lawsuit. They have enough to worry about without a bunch of corporate lawyers breathing down their necks.”

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