A new round of over 700 lawsuits filed by the Recording Industry Association of America last week targeted 32 individuals downloading copyrighted material at 26 colleges nationwide, including one person at Georgetown.

The lawsuits, alleging illegal distribution of copyrighted songs on peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa and LimeWire, are the latest of several aimed at Georgetown students over the past year.

One user on the Georgetown network was a subject of the current lawsuits, according to Jonathan Lamy, director of communications at the RIAA.

Lamy said that the individual, once identified, will be sent a letter offering an out-of-court settlement. Any settlement would include both monetary damages and a prohibition on further illegal use of copyrighted materials, he said.

Lamy also said the organization of music industry groups would continue to prefer settlements rather than potentially long and costly court cases.

“The objective here is not to win lawsuits. It is to send a message of deterrence, demonstrate that there are consequences to breaking the law and encourage music fans to migrate to the legitimate online music services,” he said.

The RIAA filings are so-called “John Doe” lawsuits, which name IP addresses, unique identifiers of computers connected to networks, as defendants rather than actual people. Music industry investigators can determine only the IP addresses of those found using copyrighted material illegally on the Internet.

Identification of individual students requires a court-issued subpoena to be delivered to the Internet service provider – in this case, the college or university providing network access to a faculty member or student.

Although the Georgetown user’s identity cannot be confirmed until a judge issues a subpoena, the large majority of past cases of digital copyright infringement have involved students rather than faculty or staff, according to University Information Services.

University spokeswoman Laura Cavender said the university administration had not yet received any subpoenas related to the new court action.

She stressed Georgetown administrators’ commitment to halting illegal file sharing on campus, and pointed to new efforts such as an online tutorial for new students as indicators of how seriously the university considers the situation.

“Georgetown expects students to comply with the law,” Cavender said. “Students who violate the law do so at their own risk.”

Beth Ann Bergsmark, director of University Information Systems, recommended that students avoid such lawsuits by using legal music downloading services such as Apple’s popular iTunes software, which sells individual songs for 99 cents.

Bergsmark said that popular peer-to-peer networks can also infect computers with viruses that can disrupt an entire computer’s hard drive. The only way to repair such damage is to entirely reformat a computer, she said.

She also warned that, despite the common belief that only users who share music with others online can be identified, downloading files can also divulge an individual’s IP address.

Georgetown Law professor Julie Cohen said while most of the cases would likely be settled out of court, the RIAA may want to send a message to students by continuing through the court process and attempting to impose harsh fines on some college network users.

“In some of these cases . they might intend to follow the case through to the bitter end,” Cohen said. “It probably doesn’t make sense to assume the students will just get off with a slap on the wrist.”

While a handful of highly-publicized file trading cases have resulted in settlements ranging from around $5,000 to $10,000, the maximum court-imposed fines under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act could technically reach as high as $150,000 per song, Cohen said.

She cautioned, however, that the RIAA and associated groups may be reluctant to pursue such results.

“It could very well be that if they did that it could backfire on them, and they could be perceived as abusive,” Cohen said. “If you’re the RIAA it is better to create a cloud of fear and not, in a very visible way, take an individual to the cleaner’s.”

This is not the first time Georgetown network users have run afoul of the RIAA.

The organization filed four lawsuits against individual students this past spring, and the number of warnings, or “takedown notices,” sent to the Hilltop has grown dramatically over the past year, according to UIS.

While the overwhelming majority of complaints have been directed at university students, graduate and professional students have also been implicated in illegal file-sharing. One faculty and one staff member were also the subjects of RIAA takedown notices, which threaten legal action if the specified offense continues.

Georgetown administrators recently announced that they were considering subscribing to a fee-based online service, such as Napster, which would allow students to stream music online for free and download songs to their computers at a small charge.

Alex Bozmoski (COL ’08), who recently switched from Kazaa to the legal fee-based Rhapsody online music service, said that the RIAA is right to ask for damages from students who have illegally downloaded or shared music.

“I think every student’s aware that it’s illegal, and they run the risk,” Bozmoski said. “That’s the way it works.”

But Janine Kamwene (SFS ’07), who uses peer-to-peer networks to download music, said the RIAA’s actions were unfair to college students.

She suggested that the music industry focus on new ideas, such as fee-based services, to combat illegal file sharing without suing individual users.

Kamwene also said the new round of suits would not affect her decision to download music through peer-to-peer networks.

“Everyone knows it’s wrong. It’s stealing someone’s music and profits,” Kamwene said. “You really don’t think it’s going to happen to you. It’s only like 36 students across the nation, and that’s a really small percentage.”

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