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Updated 4:00 PM January 27, 2004



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Warnings about file sharing
RIAA extends crackdown on copyright violators to U-M

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has notified U-M of its plan to subpoena the University for the identity of several members of the campus community, prompting officials to warn students, faculty and staff about the risks of downloading and uploading Internet files.

U-M has received notice that RIAA wants the names of nine people linked to computers on campus where music allegedly has been illegally uploaded to the Internet via file-sharing programs. At least seven of the individuals are students in the residence halls, says James Hilton, associate provost for academic, information and instructional technology affairs.

"In an international campaign intended to stop copyright infringement, RIAA has targeted specific computer accounts used to access and transmit files, and then has issued subpoenas to the service providers, like the University, in order to find out the names of those responsible for the file-sharing," Hilton says. All of the individuals involved have been notified of the impending subpoenas, he says.

The University has a policy against releasing names and contact information of computer users unless required to do so by law, Hilton says. If RIAA actually files lawsuits against the individuals, and presents valid subpoenas from that legal action, the University may not be able to protect the identities of the accused, he says.

RIAA uses Webcrawling software that spreads out across the Internet to identify computers where inappropriate file sharing is occurring. One of the biggest problems with downloading music is that many of the programs used to capture songs from the Internet have a function that automatically turns the individual's computer into a file-sharing (uploading) server, says Assistant General Counsel Jack Bernard. It is this uploading function of the programs that allows the Webcrawler to find offenders.

In some cases, the individual who downloaded the music unwittingly becomes an illegal peddler of material, as others are able to access and upload the music, Bernard says. The person's legal risk does not end by saying he or she did not know others were downloading the files.

Copyright law confers upon the owner of works, such as sound recordings or video clips, the right to copy and distribute those works. While there are some circumstances in which others legitimately may copy and distribute works owned by another, computer users must take care to download and upload within the scope of the law, Bernard says.

RIAA declared in June that it was going to take legal action to protect the rights of record companies and songwriters who say they have lost millions of dollars since Internet downloading became popular. RIAA also says it is trying to promote the legal purchase of music on the Internet.

On Jan. 21 RIAA announced that it had filed another 532 lawsuits on top of 261 filed in September. In what it calls a sweeping anti-piracy campaign, the association has settled lawsuits with some 220 people and received more than 1,000 requests for amnesty under a Clean Slate program that allows illegal file sharers to come forward before the association takes legal action. The music industry estimates there are 60 million people illegally downloading music.

Bernard says the legal tactics employed by RIAA may change behavior temporarily, but they are not enough.

"If you scare people away from using the technology, they'll come back later to what is attractive," he says. "We would rather educate them so that they can make good decisions.

"Peer to peer technology is not a bad thing; it's a great thing to share ideas and resources. File sharing is not a problem. It is what you are sharing that is the problem."

Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper feels it is important for the campus community to understand what is appropriate file sharing and what is not. Harper quotes the Residence Halls Computing Program (ResComp) Web site, which says, "The simplest guideline is: If the work or information can be purchased, [such as] a CD for sale, it is probably not okay to copy it and share it."

Public domain files, or those that can be used by anyone, usually are marked as such. The responsibility for knowing if something is legal rests with the user, Harper says.

Guidelines for file sharing and information about copyright can be found at the following sites:, and

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