RIAA to Sue Eleven at Harvard
405 students from 18 different colleges sued for illegal downloading
The defendants in this latest initiative are students at 18 colleges and universities nationwide. According to an RIAA press release, the lawsuits target users of a file-sharing program known as “i2hub,” which allows students to upload and download files at very high speeds through Internet2, a high-speed academic network that directly connects users at participating colleges and universities.
The RIAA set a maximum of 25 students at each school for this round of lawsuits, spokeswoman Jenni R. Engebretsen said, but only 11 at Harvard were targeted.
The press release stated that the students being sued today are responsible for sharing an average of over 2,300 “mp3” music files each. Some users, it said, have shared up to 3,600 such files.
“There are certainly extreme cases of file sharing, and we are filing suits...against the most egregious users of Internet2,” Engebretsen said. She said the RIAA hopes that these lawsuits will “attract the attention” of other file-sharing users and encourage them to cease their illegal behavior.
In a telephone press conference on Monday, RIAA President Cary Sherman said students who believe using Internet2 shields their illegal file-sharing from being detected are mistaken.
“Internet2 is increasingly becoming the network of choice for students seeking to steal copyrighted songs and other works on a massive scale,” Sherman said. “With this action, we are putting students and users everywhere on notice that there are consequences to illegal uses of this special network.”
Engebretsen said “uploading or downloading even one single song is against the law,” adding that the cases in which law suits are being filed represent the “tip of the iceberg.”
Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn said the University encourages “students to obey and follow the law.”
“When they don’t, it becomes an individual issue that they have to deal with individually,” Wrinn added.
According to Engebretsen, the new lawsuits have been filed with “John Doe” as the defendant, as in previous cases. This means that the RIAA only knows the IP addresses of the students involved, and the defendants’ names are later obtained from the colleges or universities by subpoena.
Wrinn said Harvard “will follow all the requirements of the subpoena[s]” when such documents are filed.
This puts the University in a “very awkward position,” said John G. Palfrey ’94, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet And Society and a lecturer at Harvard Law School.
“It’s having to act as a cop toward its students on something that the university really has no business being involved in,” Palfrey said. “I think that the university is in a hard spot because it’s forced by the law to turn over information about its students.”
He said Harvard would likely cooperate with the RIAA’s requests in order to avoid subjecting the “deep pockets” of its endowment to bigger legal battles.
Harvard should “turn this into a teaching moment” and “give students a chance to learn about what’s happening,” Palfrey said.
Additionally, Palfrey said he believes the University should have “a process by which...student[s] can push back,” contesting allegations of copyright infringement when they believe their actions are not illegal.
“I am not convinced that the school has a good process in place” for such contestation, he said.
But he said that most of these cases are settled out of court for about $3,000.
—Staff writer Matthew S. Lebowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org