Over the past two months, Rider has received almost 250 notices from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) about illegal music distribution taking place on the University’s network on both the Lawrenceville and Westminster campuses.
The number of notices is a drastic increase from the one or two dozen the University received throughout the 2009-2010 academic year, according to Tim Fairlie, director of networks/communication for the Office of Information Technology,. The RIAA represents companies that create, manufacture and distribute about 85 percent of the music sold in the United States.
“It just might be that they have a new system in place that’s more efficient; I really don’t know,” he said.
Fairlie said that many universities are in similar situations regarding the number of notices.
“That’s not unique to Rider, that’s everywhere,” Fairlie said. “People in my position at other universities are also getting slammed with this. It’s a major campaign by the RIAA.”
The letters inform the University that users on its network were detected “reproducing or distributing an unauthorized copy of a copyrighted sound recording.”
While the letters are not a notice of a lawsuit, they warn that “to avoid legal consequences, a college user should immediately delete and disable access to the unauthorized music on your computer.”
Though representatives for the RIAA could not be reached for comment, a fact sheet directed at students on the organization’s website states the letters are mostly intended to educate the recipient about illegal music sharing. No penalty is specified should an individual or university fail to comply.
Specifically, the notice states, “This constitutes notice to you that this user may be liable for infringing activity occurring on your network.”
The letters go on to explain that sharing copyrighted material on peer-to-peer networks is an easily detectable activity and that doing so was affirmed as illegal by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
A peer-to-peer network, also known as a P2P network, is one where a user downloads, or receives, a program or file in pieces from other users instead of one central location. The file can be put back together by a program such as BitTorrent as one complete file. This allows for faster downloads, as a computer can simultaneously download multiple pieces of a file.
At the same time, the computer uploads or distributes the parts of the file it has already downloaded to allow other users on the network to download them, a process known as “seeding.” This process, according to Fairlie, is how many P2P users get caught.
“Where these people get you is that, with most of these programs, as soon as you download it, you become a seed,” he said. “So that’s where we get these [letters]. They try to download the song off of you. The letter is actually for unauthorized distribution. So they’re not getting you for downloading it, they’re getting you for uploading it.”
After receiving the letter, the school is legally bound to act on it and forward the letter to the student responsible. The student is identified by information included with the letter, such as the name of the uploaded file, the date and time that it was found, and the IP address from which the file was uploaded. An IP address is a unique code that a computer uses to connect to the Internet.
“I’m required to act, so basically what we have to do is go in and trace down who that is and pass the letter on with a note saying ‘you’ve got to knock this off and reply back to me telling me that you’ve [stopped],’” Fairlie said. “That’s usually good enough. It’s a scary letter, and if you know of their successes in the past, it can be even scarier.”
Fairlie was referring to a string of cases in which the RIAA successfully sued for large fines over illegal music sharing.
In 2007, for instance, one such case required a woman to pay $9,250 for each of the 24 songs she was sued over, for a total $222,000.
Sophomore Chris Homoky feels that such a negative reaction to music sharing is uncalled for, especially in light of many recording artists’ attitudes on the matter.
“A lot of artists are now just putting their music on things like Limewire right away. They aren’t even going through a record company,” he said. “It’s just promotion for tours.”
Sophomore Matt Schirripa agrees.
“I think that music sharing should be allowed considering the musicians who write the music are OK with it most of the time,” he said.
Schirripa also believes that music sharing is so widespread that the industry should just accept it.
“A majority of the population shares music,” he said. “You’re not going to stop that many people.”
The letters also make an effort to educate people about the issues surrounding music sharing and try to help them find legal alternatives by pointing them to two websites — www.campusdownloading.com and www.musicunited.org.
These sites explain that there are many legal ways to listen to music such as iTunes, Pandora and YouTube, among others. Rider used to offer an alternative to its students with a service known as Ruckus.
“Ruckus was a service where you could download music for free, and they had a license to a large library of music,” Fairlie said. “They put a server on our campus and you were able to download music faster. It was tethered music, so you could only play it on your computer, and you would pay if you wanted to burn it onto your iPod.”
Fairlie said the service was working fine until it shut down for no apparent reason.
“[Ruckus] literally disappeared,” he said. “They stopped taking phone calls, the service stopped working. They went bankrupt and they just fell off the face of the earth.”
As for the legality of music sharing, there is not one universal viewpoint. On the side of stricter regulation, the RIAA takes a firm stand.
“Plain and simple: piracy is bad news,” says the RIAA website. “While the term is commonly used, piracy doesn’t even begin to describe what is taking place. When you go online and download songs without permission, you are stealing. The illegal downloading of music is just as wrong as shoplifting from a local convenience store — and the impact on those who create music and bring it to fans is equally devastating.”
The website cites a study by the Institute for Policy Innovation (IFPI), which found that music piracy leads to $12.5 billion in losses and 71,060 U.S. jobs lost. This translated to $2.7 billion lost in employee wages and $422 million in tax revenue.
The organization’s official stance on piracy is that it is inexcusable because of the clarity of the law on the issue and the ease of legally acquiring music online.
“According to the IFPI, there are now more than 10 million licensed tracks available on more than 400 different services worldwide,” says the website.
On the other end of the spectrum stand groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which believes the RIAA is wrong in the way it pursues piracy cases. The EFF’s website describes the organization’s philosophy about P2P networks.
“The irrational war against P2P by misguided content owners and their representatives is not generating a single penny for artists,” the website says. “In fact, despite lawsuits and other attempts to stymie P2P providers and thousands of music and movie fans, file sharing is more popular than ever.”
In place of the RIAA’s harsh stance on music sharing, the EFF believes that a radically different approach is necessary, specifically an approach called voluntary collective licensing. The organization’s website explains what this means.
“The concept is simple: the music industry forms several collecting societies, which then offer file-sharing music fans the opportunity to ‘get legit’ in exchange for a reasonable regular payment, say a total of $5-10 per month,” the website says. “So long as they pay, the fans are free to keep doing what they are going to do anyway — share the music they love using whatever software they like on whatever computer platform they prefer — without fear of lawsuits. The money collected gets divided among rights-holders based on the popularity of their music.”
EFF argues that this would be functionally similar to the way radio stations acquire the rights to play music. Stations that wish to play music pay a licensing fee to an organization of songwriters and copyright holders known as American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. This money gets divided amongst the members of the organization, which account for the vast majority of songwriters and copyright holders active in the industry. In return, stations can play music without fear of being sued for copyright infringement.
The EFF estimates that even if the 60 million Americans who illegally share music paid a few dollars every month for a similar system, it would generate more than $3 billion in revenue, a substantial amount, especially when compared to the estimated $9 billion in revenue the industry makes today.
“And this should be a highly profitable revenue source — no CDs to ship, no online retailers to cut in on the deal, no payola to radio conglomerates, no percentage to Apple or anyone else,” says the website. “Best of all, it’s an evergreen revenue stream — money that just keeps coming, during good times and bad, so long as fans want digital music online.”