By Alex Downes-Borowski
Seven Saint Mary’s University students recently received letters regarding allegations of music copyright infringement by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). While an email sent to all SMU undergraduates from Ann Merchlewitz, vice-president and general counsel of SMU, said that the university received 13 settlement letters, only seven were directed to students currently enrolled at SMU.
Each of those students have received settlement offers near $5,000. The RIAA plans to subpoena the university for the names of those students who choose not to comply, but the university will only release the names of these students upon receiving court orders.
Merchlewitz said that the university has a five-year history of dealing with the RIAA. It is typically in regard to “preservation of evidence” notices, which ask the university to keep records of specific instances of illegal file sharing. These notices include IP addresses, the song, and the time it was downloaded or uploaded. The university forwards these notices to students. In the current seven cases, the range of documented illegal activity ranged from 73 to 1,236 downloaded songs.
SMU has its own policy against downloading and sharing of online music. In the past, first-time offending students were required to watch a 10-minute video showing dangers of illegally sharing music, said Amanda Frost, HelpDesk support technician. Additionally, they were required to sign a form stating that they would discontinue sharing music. Second-time offenders had their Internet access revoked (pending the submission of an essay about how illegally sharing is wrong) and were fined $25. There have been no cases of third-time offenders. The majority of first-time offenders are freshmen.
Merchlewitz said that she is “shocked that we are in this situation.” SMU is one among the 18 universities in the RIAA’s 12th wave of university lawsuits. Some of the other universities include Arizona State University, Duke University and MIT. It is speculated that SMU was included as a statement that all universities, regardless of size, can be held accountable.
There are a growing number of services online which provide legal music downloading. These services also include movie and e-book downloading and typically have an annual or monthly subscription fee.
Students are strongly encouraged, said Merchlewitz in the undergraduate email, to remove peer-to-peer software from their computers to eliminate the possibility of being targeted by the RIAA.