Penn State students who think paying 99 cents for a song online is a bit steep when free music is readily available will be displeased to hear that song prices could be rising -- even into the $250,000 range.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) once again sent out a wave of letters to students they say have downloaded music illegally. This time, 31 Penn State students were included on the list.
"Students who have illegally downloaded copyrighted materials are stealing, and there are penalties for people who get caught," Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.
On July 18, the RIAA sent out 408 notices to 23 universities nationwide, offering the recipients a chance to settle copyright infringement claims before federal lawsuits are filed.
This wave of letters is part of a campaign that began in February by the RIAA to tackle and enforce illegal downloading. RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said 2,243 pre-litigation letters have been distributed thus far.
"We recognize that illegal downloading is disproportionally high on college campuses," Duckworth said. "We send the lawsuits first and foremost to protect our music companies, and we also want to communicate the message that there are legal consequences to breaking the law."
A survey conducted last year by Student Monitor found that more than 50 percent of all college students participate in illegal music and movie downloading. Duckworth said the students cited are a random sampling of users who have illegally downloaded and distributed music files.
"We have an active online investigative team who log on to certain peer-to-peer (P2P) networks as normal users would and monitor the sites," she said. "They capture the evidence they need ... then a random representative sampling of the illicit files is distributed."
The letter affords students the opportunity to settle out of court at a discounted rate before being sued for anywhere from $750 to $250,000 per song, as per the U.S. Copyright Act.
The RIAA sent the notices to Penn State so university officials could identify the students and distribute the letter. The RIAA can only track a user's IP address and leaves it up the school to match the address to a computer. Powers said the letters have been distributed.
"If the students don't contact us within the certain amount of time given, we file a 'John Doe' lawsuit in court and then subpoena the name from the school," Duckworth said.
The students have 20 days to take action before lawsuits are filed and were warned not to delete any of the content they have been accused to have illegally downloaded, she added.
The letters contain a case identification number for recipients to access a Web site, www.p2plawsuits.com, where students can begin the process of settling their claims.
Duckworth said if students do settle out of court, then there will be no mention of it on their criminal record.
"If they settle out of court before a maimed lawsuit is filed, it is a private matter," she added.
Powers said no judicial action will be taken by the university against students who receive letters. She said that students would be sanctioned if they violate network policies and receive an internal complaint.
"The misuse of peer-to-peer at college campuses is a serious problem, and we have implemented alternatives," Powers said. "Our message has not been observed by everyone."
She said that programs offered by Penn State, such as the Ruckus multimedia service arrangement, should promote students to engage in the legal downloading of files.
"[The RIAA] encourage the use of many legal services that are in the marketplace today such as iTunes," Duckworth said. "We cannot solve piracy altogether but can provide strong legal grounds for these services to flourish."