Last spring, the University of Wisconsin took a bold stand against the Recording Industry Association of America, refusing to forward pre-litigation settlement offers on to UW students who had used university Internet connections for illegal file-sharing.
The RIAA would not actually back up its threats with legal action, the thought process went, and so UW — unless forced to do so by subpoena — would not help the RIAA's case by forwarding settlement letters seeking thousands of dollars in damages to students.
It turns out UW was wrong.
The RIAA has, in fact, made good on its threats to pursue file sharers aggressively.
One UW student, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Badger Herald last week that her decision not to immediately settle — acting on UW's legal advice — ended up costing her $1,000 more than the original terms offered by the RIAA.
Though one can certainly challenge the wisdom or efficacy of the RIAA's tactics, it is the actions of UW and its Division of Information Technology that actually concern us more. Despite clinging to an outdated and failing business model, it seems to us the RIAA is on the legal and, indeed, moral high ground. It should not be ignored that the students UW has been fighting to protect did, in all likelihood, knowingly break the law. Although the victim in this case is a giant recording industry and the perpetrator is a lowly college student, and not vice versa, stealing is stealing and should be treated as such.
"Downloading is a nearly universal activity of people under a certain age," DoIT Interim CIO Ken Frazier told the Herald, adding that he thinks it is "ridiculous" for the RIAA to pin the downloading problem on college students.
Statements like these leave us shaking our heads, wondering why DoIT and the UW legal team are expending so much time and effort on protecting students — the vast majority of whom are adults — from the consequences of their illegal actions. UW still, for example, will only forward an RIAA settlement offer on to offending students who explicitly request it.
Despite their misgivings about the recording industry, UW and DoIT should step out of the picture and stop interfering with the judicial process. It's not clear they're doing the offending students any good, anyway.