As the University of Wisconsin waits to receive a batch of settlement offers addressed to 15 of its students from the Recording Industry Association of America, university officials have made one thing clear: They won't play along.
Chancellor John Wiley met with Provost Patrick Farrell and Interim Chief Information Officer Ken Frazier Tuesday morning to affirm UW's decision not to forward pre-litigation settlement letters to anonymous students who the RIAA believes are illegally downloading music online.
According to the RIAA, each letter informs the university that it plans to file a copyright infringement lawsuit against one of its students or personnel. The letters offer those targeted an opportunity to settle with the RIAA out of court before any legal action is taken.
However, the RIAA needs UW to forward those letters to the students or personnel, since the association has only anonymous IP addresses and no names. UW would have that information, since the letters target people who were allegedly downloading music illegally over a university server.
But without any legal obligation to forward those letters, Brian Rust, communications manager for the UW Division of Information Technology, said UW will not cooperate with the RIAA.
"It's basically saying that the recording industry may think the person or people who may have used this particular IP address might have done something wrong," Rust said. "That's two 'mays' and a 'might' — and the university can't punish a person on that basis."
Unlike cease-and-desist orders or subpoenas, the RIAA's settlement letters are not legally binding.
If the RIAA wanted the university to disclose the identities of people who used particular IP addresses, Rust said the association should file a subpoena in court and convince a judge that the disclosure is warranted.
Calling the settlement letters an attempt for the RIAA to enforce the law in a "roundabout way," Rust said the university would not help the association "hassle" UW students.
"We hope to keep them from being hassled by the recording industry," Rust said. "We feel students are being hassled and targeted for this. You don't hear notices going to AOL or charter.com users."
As one of more than 14 universities nationwide to receive a batch of settlement letters from the RIAA, UW is one of the first to refuse forwarding them to its students, according to Jenni Engebretsen, RIAA communications director.
"Every school that received letters in the first wave of this initiative forwarded them along to their students," Engebretsen wrote in an email to The Badger Herald.
And the RIAA is not pleased with UW's decision.
"If the University of Wisconsin has adopted this policy — and we have had no direct communication from administrators that they have — it would be unfortunate," Engebretsen wrote. "Students would lose the opportunity to settle any future claims against them at a substantially discounted sum and with the benefit of no public mark on their record."
Allowing students an opportunity to settle with the RIAA is the reason why Ohio University — which received the highest number of settlement letters in the first wave sent last month — forwarded them to its students, according to Ohio University spokesperson Sally Linder.
"By not forwarding the letters, we would have not given students the option to settle," Linder said. "We would have cut off the settlement option."
Linder added that the RIAA has gone through with its threat to go after illegal online downloaders in the past, and said Ohio University did not want to be in a situation to "guess what the RIAA would do."
Though he confirmed UW has received a letter from the RIAA saying it plans to send 15 settlement letters soon, Rust said the university has not yet received them.