- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The recording industry yesterday sued 532 persons — including computer users at four area universities — accusing them of illegally downloading music on the Internet.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), in an effort to protect new fee-based song-swapping systems, said it was targeting users of illegal file-sharing services, including 89 persons who used high-speed Internet connections at 21 U.S. universities.

The suits include computer users at Georgetown, George Washington and George Mason universities, as well as the University of Maryland at College Park.

“Piracy, which is particularly rampant on college campuses, continues to hurt retailers, musicians, producers, record labels and thousands of less-celebrated individuals involved in making music,” said RIAA President Cary Sherman. “There is an exciting array of legal music services where fans can get high-quality music online.”

All 532 defendants are listed as “John Doe” in the lawsuits. The RIAA plans to uncover the identity of the defendants by linking the offending Internet protocol addresses to users. It plans to issue subpoenas to the universities and Internet providers, requesting that they release the names of people violating copyright laws.

Most college students have access to high-speed, always-on Internet connections, making college campuses hotbeds for illegal song swapping. Napster, one of the earliest file-sharing systems, was founded by a college student and exploded in popularity on campuses in the late 1990s. Napster since has been purchased by Roxio Inc. and molded into a pay service.

Other illegal networks including Kazaa, Bearshare and Morpheus still are widely used and have been difficult to shut down. The RIAA estimates that more than 2.6 billion songs are downloaded illegally each month.

In the past year, several companies have introduced fee-based download services. Apple Inc.’s ITunes service has sold more than 50 million songs at 99 cents each. MusicMatch, a similar pay service, boasts 50 million registered users.

George Washington University said it had not yet received a subpoena stemming from the lawsuits, but vowed to cooperate. Officials said the university takes steps to educate students about proper computer conduct. GWU will host a forum on illegal file-sharing tomorrow, with representatives from Sony, Napster and the RIAA expected to attend.

Officials from the University of Maryland, George Mason and Georgetown did not return calls seeking comment.

At Maryland, many students have downloaded music for free from a student-run, file-sharing hub known as Direct Connect. The hub temporarily was shut down in February after a student sent out a prank e-mail suggesting that he had tipped off the RIAA to the site, but is back online.

In February, Maryland’s Office of Information Technology sent out e-mail messages to users of file-sharing networks, instructing them to remove illegal files from their computers or face revoked computer privileges. According to the e-mail, the office received formal written complaints of copyright infringement from the Business Software Alliance, a global software trade group.

The RIAA has sued nearly 2,000 people for copyright infringement since September and reached out-of-court settlements with about 400 people.

In January, the RIAA sued 532 unnamed defendants, and courts granted the right to issue subpoenas to Internet-service providers to learn the identity of defendants. The RIAA also filed suit against 531 unnamed defendants in February, in federal courts in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Orlando, Fla., and Trenton, N.J.

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