RIAA gets aggressive over music downloads

April 30, 2008 11:56:55 PM PDT
Even if you don't download music illegally, it is possible to be accused of piracy. You may have heard that the music industry is getting aggressive about protecting its copyrights and it is. However, if you feel certain you could never get caught up in a lawsuit because you haven't downloaded music illegally, you could be greatly surprised.

"This is like a warning to everybody," says Bob Talbot, a University of San Francisco law professor.

Talbot is explaining how and for how much an illegal music downloader can be sued.

"For each song it can be between $750 and $150,000," says Talbot.

Although this lecture is taking place in a classroom, it is anything but academic.

"You can look up the title, the artist or the album," says a college student.

A student shows how to download music, without paying, through an online program called LimeWire. Industry investigators go online looking for this activity and often find students logged on through their university.

That's pay dirt, because, through a round about way, the student's identity can be tracked by the school, allowing the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to put a name on a lawsuit.

That's how this San Francisco State student got caught up in all this.

"Even if you think you are not doing anything wrong, you are sharing. The downloading is not illegal, it is the sharing part that is illegal," says the SF State student.

That's a simplification, but that is the hook the industry is using to threaten students.

"We have stepped up our focus on universities and we send pre-lawsuit letters to universities," says Jonathan Lamy, from the Recording Industry Association of America.

Those letters lead to a demand of $3,000 or more and if the student doesn't respond, legal proceedings go forward and the price of any settlement goes up.

"They don't know if it is you. It could be misidentification. It could be someone else on the computer. It could be anything that has happened," says Talbot.

However the cost of fighting a misidentification is so expensive, many consumers just pay up.

"Do you feel like a bully?" asks ABC7's Michael Finney.

"No. You know this is a program we wish we didn't have to do. We thought long and hard before we took this step," says Lamy. "But you have to look at it from our perspective, which is we we're an industry hemorrhaging jobs, hemorrhaging money and people didn't seem to understand people were stealing music with impunity."

Still, the RIAA has attorneys most students don't. That is why the professor and his students have set up this law clinic to help those who have been contacted by the RIAA.

That brings us back to our San Francisco State student.

"Do you suggest that I settle or go to court?" asks the SF State student.
"I think honestly, it is best to settle just from the standpoint that your are risking a lot," says the law student.
"What do you think of that advice?" asks Finney.
"I am going to take that advice because they know more than me and have helped more than just me," says the student.

The law clinic students are going to attempt to negotiate the best settlement possible for the SF State student, while other cases may be fought through the courts.

Finally, the young woman who showed us how illegal downloading works, she wasn't on her computer. She was actually on a friend's computer.


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