The recording industry's threats to take legal action against individuals involved in illegal file sharing proved not to be hollow Thursday when four college students were slapped with lawsuits.
The complaints, filed in federal courts in New York, New Jersey and Michigan, claim that students Daniel Peng, Joseph Nievelt, Jesse Jordan and Aaron Sherman ran file-sharing systems that offered up more than 1 million song files in violation of copyright law. The Recording Industry Association of America, the organization that represents the copyright-holding record labels, asked that the services be disabled and for monetary damages up to $150,000 per song, according to an RIAA spokesperson.
The file-sharing systems were based at Princeton University, Michigan Technological University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Jordan and Sherman attend RPI). Because the server was housed on an internal local area network, the songs were only available to fellow students and school staff.
"These systems are best described as 'local area Napster networks,' " RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement, referring to the file-sharing pioneer that the RIAA helped shutter two years ago (see "Judge: Napster Must Stay Down Until Filters Are Perfected"). "The court ruled that Napster was illegal and shut it down. These systems are just as illegal and operate in the same manner. And just like Napster, they hurt artists, musicians, songwriters, those who invest in their work and the thousands of others who work to bring music to the public."
The student networks used software called Flatlan, Phynd and Direct Connect. The schools were not named in the suit.
Upon notification of the offense, Princeton removed the file-sharing site within 24 hours. The other schools were investigating the claims. All have policies against using their networks for copyright infringement.
The lawsuits are the latest result of the RIAA's ongoing awareness campaign to inform consumers, employers and colleges of the illegality of copyright-infringing file sharing. In October, more than 2,300 letters were sent to colleges and universities, notifying administrators of the unlawful practice and the congestion it can cause to a school's network (see "RIAA, MPAA Get On Colleges' Cases Over Student File Sharing"). A similar letter was sent to Fortune 500 companies a few weeks later.