RIAA Comin’ For You

So the RIAA is upping its patrol of college campus downloading and has a new strategy in cracking down on illegal downloading essentially by co-opting the administration into doing its dirty work for them:

In a new strategy it announced Wednesday, the association said it will send 400 “pre-litigation” letters each month (a total of 5,000 a year) offering students the chance to settle at a “substantially discounted” rate what they owe for downloading music illegally and to keep the association from filing lawsuits that would appear on their public record.

The RIAA’s letters will go to administrators at colleges and universities to deliver the notices to the appropriate students, and the first batch of 400 letters went out Wednesday to officials at 13 universities, mostly large public ones (see list at bottom). Students who don’t respond within 20 days will face lawsuits.

While students are the ultimate targets, college officials have a responsibility and a role to play, too, Sherman said. “We take this opportunity to once again ask schools to be proactive to step up and accept responsibility for the activities of students on their networks. It’s not a legal responsibility, but a moral responsibility, as educators, as leaders transmitting values to their students.”

The file sharing issue has been a thorny one for many college and university administrators, who see themselves as having a responsibility to limit an illegal activity taking place on their campuses (an activity that can also clog their networks), yet aren’t thrilled about having to play technology cop to their students on the entertainment industry’s behalf.

The RIAA’s (and the Motion Picture Academy of America’s) previous campaign of “John Doe” lawsuits against individual students have put campus officials on the spot, as the lawsuits have been accompanied by subpoenas ordering the colleges and universities to put names to the students identified only by their IP addresses. Campuses have typically complied, although some have complained that academe is being singled out unreasonably, given that many more Americans download music and movie files illegally through their commercial Internet providers than students do through their campus networks.

Under the recording industry’s new line of attack — which Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, called a “spring offensive” — the companies are asking college administrators to pass the settlement offers on to their students, voluntarily, and to encourage the students to then file for the settlements via a Web site within 20 days. The RIAA declined to say how much students might save by settling rather than facing court-imposed penalties — which news reports have pegged at $3,000 to $4,000 on average — but its officials described the savings as substantial.