The University of Wisconsin Division of Information Technology notified students living in campus residence halls Friday that the department would not forward letters from the Recording Industry Association of America offering an alternative to formal legal proceedings against them.
Because the RIAA can only identify file sharers by their Internet addresses, which point only to UW as their provider, DoIT would need to identify the specific students and deliver the letters in order to comply with the recording industry's wishes.
DoIT regularly receives cease-and-desist letters from the RIAA and is required to pass them on to offenders under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But according to DoIT communications manager Brian Rust, the letters DoIT is refusing to send are pre-lawsuit settlement offers, which are not covered under the DMCA.
The letters offer students who have been identified sharing copyrighted music online the option of paying about $3,000 in order to avoid a formal lawsuit in the future. While the offers might seem reasonable, it is clear that the RIAA is trying to scare students into coughing up the dough without performing any of the actual legal legwork — subpoenaing hundreds of students across the country would likely carry a slightly higher price tag than simply mailing a few sheets of paper, after all.
The RIAA has a penchant for enraging those who are most passionate about their product — music — and is competing with the likes of Charter Communications for last place in the public eye. It's clear that the organization is desperately clinging to a sales model that just doesn't work in the Internet age and should seek alternative means to take advantage of a changing market.
Bad business aside, however, the RIAA is in a legally sound position demanding compensation for their works, and the fact of the matter is students are breaking the law.
While we applaud the university for standing up against a major corporation in an effort to protect students' rights, we're not convinced that students who might otherwise receive the settlement offers should be blind to the incident altogether.
Indeed, whether or not the letters are a good predictor of formal legal action, students should know if the RIAA has them on its not-so-short list. Further, students should have the option of taking the offers, though UW and DoIT would serve students well to offer some perspective on potential outcomes.
While we appreciate DoIT's good faith effort, students have a right to know what might be coming and are capable of making their own decisions about their futures in court.