Sued College Students Settle With RIAA

RIAA sued last month, demanding students shut down file-sharing networks, pay up to $150,000 per song.

The four college students sued by the recording industry for copyright infringement stemming from online file-sharing have settled the matter out of court.

Princeton University student Daniel Peng and Michigan Tech student Joseph Nievelt paid $15,000 each in damages to the Recording Industry Association of America, while Jesse Jordan and Aaron Sherman of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, coughed up $12,000 and $17,000, respectively. None of the defendants admitted any wrongdoing.

"I don't believe that I did anything wrong," Peng said in a statement from his attorney. "I am glad that the case has been settled amicably, and I hope that for the sake of the artists, the larger issues can soon be resolved."

The RIAA slapped the students with lawsuits last month, demanding that they shut down the file-sharing networks they ran on the schools' local area networks and pay monetary damages up to $150,000 per song (see "RIAA Sues Four College Students For File Sharing"). It was estimated that the networks shared more than 1 million songs, so, though unlikely, damages could have technically amounted to $150 billion.

"We appreciate the quick efforts to settle these cases," said RIAA Senior Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs Matt Oppenheim in a statement. "We believe it's in everyone's best interest to come to a quick resolution, and that these four defendants now clearly understand the seriousness with which we view this type of illegal behavior."

Even if students at some schools wanted to violate copyright laws by setting up similar intranet sharing systems or accessing Internet peer-to-peer file-sharing networks such as KaZaA, Morpheus and Grokster, they may not be able to. Pressured from the RIAA and other copyright-holding organizations, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and 17 other colleges and universities have installed filters to block access to any file-sharing network from a computer on the school's server.

NJIT received more than 30 calls per week from the RIAA and the Business Software Alliance, who reported the Internet Protocol addresses (akin to your computer's fingerprint) of those suspected of copyright infringement. The volume of calls and the time and resources it took to warn and discipline students, coupled with the network traffic caused by the sharing of large files — not to mention the then-pending lawsuits against the four other students — prompted Dean of Student Services Jack Gentul to remedy the situation and protect his students from potential litigation in the process.

The issue to block access to P2P networks was presented before the student senate, which voted in its favor two weeks ago.

Last week, however, a federal judge determined that P2Ps Grokster and Morpheus were legal, even if some of their users employed them for unlawful means (see "Morpheus, Grokster Are A-OK, Judge Says"). The ruling did not affect NJIT's decision.

The RIAA, which last year sent hundreds of letters to colleges and universities warning their presidents of the illegality and harm caused by illegal downloading, views the actions taken by NJIT and the other schools as evidence its awareness campaign is working.

"We have also sent a clear signal to others that this kind of activity is illegal," the RIAA's Oppenheim's statement also said. "The message is clearly getting through that distributing copyrighted works without permission is illegal, can have consequences, and that we will move quickly and aggressively to enforce our rights."

However, one NJIT student believes that blocking access to P2Ps sends another kind of message: that the school doesn't trust its students.

"I don't think it's a good thing. I think this is really restrictive," said Jared Ezyske, a junior. "Just because we're file sharing doesn't mean we're sharing copyrighted material. It says that the school doesn't trust us."

However, when asked what he used P2P networks for, after some stammering and having to ask his friend, Ezyske answered, "TV shows. Episodes of my favorite TV shows. Instead of having a videocassette library of 'The Simpsons' episodes, we can download them."

Unfortunately for Ezyske, sharing episodes of television programs without the permission of the copyright holder is also infringement.