New RIAA Action Advisory - 3/20/2007

To: Students, Faculty and Staff of the Colby College Community

From: Ray Phillips, Dir. of IT Services

RE: New RIAA action against individuals illegally sharing music files

The College prohibits illegal activity, including copyright infringement, and has repeatedly issued warnings that the use of peer-to-peer file-sharing applications puts individuals at considerable risk of being the target of civil and even criminal action in federal court.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has recently announced aggressive new action against individuals involved in illegal file-sharing on college and university campuses.  Several years ago the RIAA shifted from only issuing complaints under the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 to also bringing suit in federal court against individuals.  Thousands of college students have been sued (but none yet at Colby) and the penalties, even when settled out of court, have been many thousands of dollars.

The RIAA has recently announced that its member companies will begin issuing pre-litigation "letters of settlement" to individuals observed to be illegally sending or receiving music files for which they own the copyrights.  These letters will give the individual the opportunity to contact the copyright owner's representative through a web page and initiate settlement.  Recipients of this letter will find this to be an expensive process but probably less than settling or defending a lawsuit.

Anyone on the Colby College campus using any file-sharing application, including Kazaa, eDonkey, BitTorrent, Ares, Gnutella, Morpheus, etc., to send or receive files in violation of copyright can be observed doing so by the copyright owners' agents.  Colby's administration is not monitoring anyone's activities on the network, but if you use any of these applications, the sending or receiving of music and other files may be observed by investigators on the Internet.  At Colby we do not block file-sharing through the Internet connection because using these applications is legal where copyright is not being infringed.  However, the bandwidth made available for this traffic is severely limited.

Anyone using any file-sharing application is likely to be observable from outside the campus network.  This is how the applications function and this is how users of these applications are being identified by the copyright owners.  Music and video file-sharing by individuals at Colby might be observed from anywhere in the world.

If the College receives notification that copyright infringement has been observed and a pre-litigation letter of settlement is being offered to the person responsible for the computer at a given network address, that individual will be informed by my office and given the documents from the copyright owner.  The Colby person's identity will not be provided by the College to the copyright owner unless a subpoena for that information has been issued.  If you receive one of these letters of settlement, you may choose to follow the instructions or ignore it and wait for filing of a lawsuit.  Upon receiving a letter of settlement offer, it would probably be wise to consult with an attorney. 

There is another critically important difference between standard copyright violation complaints under the DMCA and pre-litigation letter of settlement notifications.  In the case of standard DMCA complaints, of which the College has received many over the years, removal of all copyright infringing files from the computer (often accompanied by removal of the file-sharing application) and a promise not to violate copyright in the future is all that is required.  By contrast, the RIAA warns that, in the case of receipt of a letter of settlement, no relevant content may be removed from the computer; it must be available for the discovery phase of possible litigation.  To remove any files may constitute obstruction of justice by destroying evidence and carry significant criminal penalties.  Continuing to use the computer on the network in such a situation may create significant risk of additional action by other copyright owners if there is more than one file involved.  This may render the computer unusable, at least on the campus network, until after settlement.  Consulting an attorney would be highly advisable.  Remember that destroying evidence in a copyright infringement case may be far more serious than the original copyright crime.

The actions announced by the RIAA are an attempt to reduce rampant copyright infringement taking place on the Internet using file-sharing applications.  It is not directed at legal file downloads from services such as Apple Computer's iTunes, permitted distribution of software through licensing such as our Microsoft Campus Agreement or to restrict "fair use" of copyrighted resources in an academic setting. 

Ray Phillips, Dir. of IT Services, Colby College