Continuing its efforts to crack down on illegal file sharing, the Record Industry Association of America sent a second wave of settlement offers to college campuses across the nation Wednesday.
According to a release from the RIAA, University of Wisconsin System campuses will receive 66 pre-litigation settlement letters, which offer students suspected of illegally downloading or sharing music online a chance to settle out of court before any legal action is taken.
The RIAA sent a total of 405 settlement letters Wednesday to 23 universities nationwide. It was the second wave of settlement letters the RIAA sent to college campuses in less than a month.
Though the letters have not yet arrived at UW, Division of Information Technology communications manager Brian Rust said the university expects to receive 15 settlement letters from the RIAA.
The letters are sent to universities because the RIAA only has Internet addresses — also known as IP addresses — of computers they believe have engaged in illegal file sharing, with no names attached.
However, UW administrators have maintained they would not forward those letters to students or release to the RIAA the names linked to those IP addresses, saying it is an unjustified attempt by the recording industry to circumvent the legal process and "hassle" students.
"To put this on the university's back is entirely inappropriate," Rust said. "We just do not want the RIAA to use the university instead of the legal process."
Most universities, however, will not be following UW's lead.
According to the RIAA, UW is one of the first universities to refuse to forward the settlement letters to its students.
The University of North Dakota will also not send the letters to its students. However, the reason has nothing to do with taking a stand against the RIAA, according to spokesperson Peter Johnson.
UND only stores its server information for 30 days at a time, Johnson said. And by the time the RIAA sent settlement letters to the university, Johnson said all the data was erased.
"If they came earlier, we would have passed them along," Johnson said.
Aside from UW and the University of North Dakota, the RIAA said most universities have cooperated fully.
Jack Bernard, assistant general counsel for the University of Michigan, said the university wants to allow its students the opportunity to make their own decisions.
"We don't want to be paternalistic," Bernard said. "We want students to have as much time to go into resources, speak to attorneys, and speak to their families."
Though the University of Michigan plans on forwarding the settlement letters, Bernard said the university would not be releasing the names of the students to the RIAA.
"We don't do that — not without a subpoena," Bernard said.
And it is the subpoenas that students need to watch out for, according to Anuj Desai, assistant professor at UW Law School, since the RIAA holds significant legal leverage over those accused.
U.S. courts have consistently tossed out defenses for online file sharing, Desai said, aside from a defendant simply claiming they did not do it.
"As a legal matter, there just isn't that many arguments left for online file sharers," Desai said. "The only defense is factual — 'I didn't do it.'"
And the penalties for illegal file sharing, Desai added, can be steep.
According to copyright statutes, record companies could theoretically sue file sharers between $750 and $30,000 per song, Desai said, and, occasionally, for up to $150,000 per song.
Though he said he did not want to speculate on the RIAA's intentions, Desai said the settlement letters might be the recording industry attempting to offer people an easier way out.
"In the fairest light, the recording industry is effectively saying, 'Here's your chance to settle. We're giving you a better deal,'" Desai said.