Since early 2007, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) have been scanning IP addresses from P2P (peer-to-peer) applications and sending cease-and-desist notices to offenders, along with pre-litigation fines of $3,000. Not surprisingly, these two corporate copyright associations have found many targets huddled together on the same networks: college campuses. Like fish in a barrel, college students have proven to be easy targets for corporate lawyers, as the RIAA and MPAA formulate an aggressive strategy to stop the free transfer of copyrighted material from one desktop to another. So what should users of P2P software like BitTorrent or LimeWire expect if the lawyers come calling?Related Articles: Can an ISP Crackdown Stop Pirates? IT Security"s Security Audit Process The Looming Internet Logjam The IT Security NAC Buyer"s Guide Student Journalists Get the Story
Since the piracy issue has disproportionately affected young adults enrolled in institutions of higher learning, the best information concerning the tactics and strategies of corporate attack-dog attorneys comes from students who work at college newspapers. From the Ivy League to the West Coast, the anecdotes all sound similar: One moment, college students are minding their own business, and the next moment, they owe the RIAA $3,000.
In late February 2008, the RIAA sent out pre-settlement letters — in its 13th wave of anti-piracy litigation — to more than 400 students enrolled at various colleges, including Boston University (35 students), Columbia University (50 students), University of Southern California (50 students) and University of Virginia (16 students), among others.In total, 5,406 pre-litigation settlement letters have been sent to college students since February 2007. Of those cases, more than 2,300 were settled, and 2,465 ended in lawsuits, according to the RIAA. At $3,000 a pop, those 2,300 settlements yielded the RIAA $6.9 million. Of those that went to lawsuits, the RIAA asked for $750 per song illegally transferred, according to the University of Connecticut’s student newspaper, The Daily Campus. University of Connecticut student “Dave,” who was caught downloading a mere 109 songs, could face a bill of $81,750 if he fought his case in court and lost.
Despite the continental scope of this attack, major news outlets (with the exception of CNET News.com) failed to mention it in late February 2008. Meanwhile, Cornell University’s newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun, was all over the story. Less than a year earlier, 16 Cornell students had been targets of similar letters. Some of those students filed “hardship claims,” stating that they couldn’t pay the $3,000 fine. Others bit the bullet and paid up. The Cornell Daily Sun quoted one student who paid as saying, “my case was clearly just used as an example to scare people. If you are going to sue one person, sue everyone, especially since the severity of my piracy was not nearly as bad as others I know. This shows that I was arbitrarily chosen.”Cornell University"s fellow Ivy League institution, Yale University, receives about 100 notices per month from industry groups like the RIAA, according to the college"s student news publication, The Yale Herald, which considered such notices “a fairly regular occurrence at Yale,” even though no one at the institution has yet been sued.
Students at Brown University have been less lucky and have been targeted by both the RIAA and the MPAA, which The Brown Daily Herald referred to in a January 2008 editorial as “co-conspirator[s] in resisting modernity.” The editorial ran before the latest round of RIAA attack letters and just after the MPAA admitted that it had drastically overstated the number of college students involved in the illegal downloading of copyrighted material — down from 44 percent as originally reported to 15 percent, a mistake that the MPAA attributed to a “data entry” error, according to the Hollywood Reporter. This data-entry error overestimated the college-student piracy problem by more than $483 million, but more importantly, it did not deter “co-conspirator” RIAA from staying the course in its war against college students.Practice Safe Piracy
College students who plan to continue illegally downloading copyrighted content should protect themselves. In other words, don’t be a pirate without an eye-patch.For starters, students who really want to use BitTorrent but fear the wrath of the corporate lawyers can download BTGuard, which reroutes all BitTorrent traffic through Canada anonymously, with no bandwidth or volume restrictions.
“The U.S. is experiencing a privacy-invasion epidemic more so than most,” a representative of BTGuard told TorrentFreak. “ISPs are issuing disconnection notices with little regard for privacy or the accuracy of those who notified them.”Unlike similar products on the market such as VPNout or SmartHide, BTGuard hides only BitTorrent traffic, not everything that comes into or out of an IP address. A one-day free trial of BTGuard is available at the product"s official site, and the program costs 4.75 euros per month after the trial ends.Meanwhile, TorrentFreak also recently announced that several BitTorrent developers are joining forces to subvert Comcast’s plans to “shape” or “manage” the traffic of BitTorrent downloaders.What’s Next?
The RIAA is facing some tough challenges that could dramatically affect how it deals with consumers, perhaps even closing the door to the days of freewheeling lawsuits against college students and other citizens.The RIAA may regret the lawsuit it filed in 2005 against a disabled single mother from Oregon named Tanya Andersen. Andersen has launched a lawsuit of her own against the RIAA, which may reveal exactly how the organization and MediaSentry Inc. (now owned by SafeNet Inc.) identify offending IP addresses — juicy information indeed when turned over to college students and BitTorrent developers.Furthermore, the RIAA’s pubic position as a defender of recording artists’ rights may be losing its luster, since those artists apparently haven’t seen a dime of the money collected from last year"s $270 million settlement with P2P operators Napster LLC, Kazaa and Bolt.
“After the labels recouped their legal expenses,” an industry source told the New York Post, “there wasn"t much left to pass along to the artists.”