File Sharers Sued; Music Industry Cracks Down on Internet 'Piracy'
Byline: Michael Carney, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Four college students - including a sophomore who was forced to hand over his life savings - were the first targets of the recording industry's effort to crack down on fans they say are stealing music by sharing it over the Internet. While the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) says it is fighting thieves, critics say the industry is alienating millions of music fans who engage in the practice of file-sharing, where digital files of tunes are swapped among computer users.
The legal floodgates opened wide when Verizon Communications was forced to turn over the names of four customers who the RIAA says engaged in Internet music piracy.
The RIAA said on June 19 the four users would receive cease-and-desist letters demanding they stop sharing illegal music for downloading or face lawsuits.
Six days later, the RIAA announced in both a daring and risky move it would file lawsuits against several hundred individuals accused of illegally downloading music.
"Anyone sharing files should stop immediately," said RIAA spokeswoman Amy Weiss. "People will begin getting lawsuits in the next eight to 10 weeks. There will be no more cease-and-desist letters. We have been warning for years."
"The message, if we got it out, it didn't get across," said Matt Oppenheim, vice president of business and legal affairs for the RIAA. "Since the level of illegal sharing has continued to grow, we have felt we had little choice at this point but to enforce our rights."
Users can use software, such as Kazaa Media Desktop or Grokster, to search an online network of users' shared files and then download those files directly from the user.
However, lawsuits against Kazaa and Grokster have produced little support for record companies, unlike the success they had in bringing another file-sharing network, Napster, to a halt.
In April, the U.S. District Court of Central California denied requests by the recording and motion picture industries to shut down Grokster, citing "undisputed substantial noninfringing uses for [the] software."
Rob Malda, creator of Slashdot.org, a Web site dedicated to "News for nerds, stuff that matters," agreed with the court's decision.
"Sharing files is legal. Distributing copyrighted content is another matter, but the concept of simply sharing files in a peer-to-peer manner is obviously legal," he said. "These programs shouldn't be legislated anymore than using [Microsoft] Word to type out song lyrics should be. We need to separate usage of software from the software itself."
The RIAA has appealedthe court's decision.
In what now appears as a warning to the general public of things to come, the RIAA sued four college students in April for in excess of $90 billion for their file-sharing services at their respective universities.
All four students settled out of court, including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) sophomore Jesse Jordan, who paid $12,000 to settle the RIAA suit after consulting with attorneys that the legal fees, even with a win in court, would far exceed the settlement cost.
"The amount was based upon every dime in my savings account," Mr. Jordan said of his settlement.
"We thought the numbers we settled for were the right amount given the situation," Mr. Oppenheim said.
Mr. Jordan ran a service from his Web site, www.chewplastic.com, that allowed students at RPI to locate and download shared files across the campus network. …