The RIAA P2PLawsuit Letter Sent To College Students

Justin McElroy at the Herald-Dispatch sends us a link to a PDF of the letter RIAA lawyers sent to college students, accusing them of infringing copyright and offering to settle if they identify themselves and confess. From Justin’s article:

Unfortunately for the students who have been targeted (a group that apparently includes both downloaders and sharers), minimum damages that the RIAA can request under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is $750 per infringement. For students who have hundreds of songs on their computer, that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

After the deadline, the RIAA says that they’ll subpoena the names of the students they say they’ve caught infringing copyright law.

“If the RIAA goes after the students directly, we will have no choice than to give them the names,” said Jan Fox, vice president for Information Technology [at Marshall University].

Fox points out that the infringements are all recent, but even if they are first time offenses, students can still be held liable.

Fox doesn’t know why Marshall, located in Huntington, West Virginia was chosen as one of the 13 colleges to be threatened by the RIAA, but speculates it may have something to do with the name recognition stemming from We Are Marshall.

The RIAA writes:

“We have asked your Internet Service Provider to forward this letter to you in advance of our filing lawsuit against you in federal court for copyright infringement. We represent a number of large record companies, including SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group, as well as all of their subsidiaries (“Record Companies,”) in perusing claims of copyright infringement against individuals who have illegally uploaded or downloaded sound-recordings on peer-to-peer networks.

We have gathered evidence that you have been infringing copyrights owned by the Record Companies. We are attaching to this letter a sample of the sound recordings you were found distributing via the AresWarezUS (Ares) peer-to-peer network. In total, you were found to be distributing 321 files, a substantial number of which are sound recordings controlled by the Record Companies.

The reason we are sending you this letter to you in advance of filing suit is to give you the opportunity to settle these claims are early as possible. If you contact us within the next twenty (20) calendar days, we will offer to settle the claims for a significantly reduced amount compared to the judgment amount a court may enter against you…


Marshall students could owe hundreds of thousands in RIAA suit [Herald-Dispatch]

RIAA Letter (PDF)[Herald-Dispatch]

RIAA Letter (PDF, Locally Saved)


Edit Your Comment

  1. esqdork says:

    I think I know what’s going on: the RIAA is in a campaign to be the champion of Consumerist’s bracket. Thus, its relentless obnoxiousness and its overhwhelming victory over U-Haul. I blame Consumerist for dangling the promise of being its first Worst Corporation in America for the RIAA’s recent activity.

  2. Scazza says:

    Although I am not affected by this, maybe consumerist can give students a hand and find out how they can protect themselves (if they even can) from having to pony up the dough for this.

  3. shoegazer says:

    Where’s the EFF when you need ’em?

  4. AndyMan1 says:

    (thanks for the login, Ben!)

    One thing I’ve always wondered: Let’s say, hypothetically, I’m a “brick and mortar” variety of music pirate. I’d be sued based on the number of CDs I sold out of my trenchcoat on a street corner, correct? And my guess is that if I gave someone a small shard of a CD that I broke off of one that I burned, that wouldn’t count against me, as that certainly isn’t playable.

    So why doesn’t this apply in the digital world? If I’m, again hypothetically, a digital pirate, and my share ratio is .01, it means I’ve possibly pulled down 1 copy of the song, and given 1% of the song to others. The downloading, I believe, can only be charged market value, so that’s a 99 cent fine (.99 cent for verizon). And, at best, .01 of that $750 charge for the upload, or 7.50.

    And that’s assuming that 1% of the song went to one person. Depending on how I hypothetically share, it’s going to at least 10 people, so that’s .1% of a song for ten people. It’s also probably not a straightforward chunk, but lots of tinier chunks from across the file. So at what point is a percentage of a song file no longer a song? Is ten seconds (fair use) the limit? As the analogy goes, if I start taking apart a wooden boat plank by plank, at what point is it no longer a boat?

    Would this reasoning fly in court? Any armchair lawyers in the crowd?

  5. katana says:

    Jan Fox is totally thinking, “Damn you, Matthew Mcconnaughey and your stupid football movie! We are Marshall, not you!”

  6. radiofree says:

    This is in no way to defend the RIAA, but don’t people know that the RIAA is serious about pursuing those who download music files “illegally”? That if people do download or share music files over the internet, they can get caught, and that if caught, the RIAA has shown it has no compunction in pursuing anyone?

    I’m only surprised more people haven’t found more ways around getting their accounts linked to downloaded files, i.e., isn’t their some type of anonymous browsing/file sharing system?

    It’s not as if the information about the RIAA is not out there. This letter, their methods, should come as no surprise to us.

  7. Coder4Life says:

    This is so stupid… If I want to share my music with other people I shoudl be able to. just like if I want to show my movie to 5 friends of mine I can.

    Or I can just burn them a CD and nothing can be done. They are just taking money from hard working people, so the big guys can go buy their next 10 million house.

    Becaue of people liek them, American is put to shame. Big guys driving million dollar cars, owning houses w/ who knows what in them, and planes that are outfitted like a Jungle or some crap.

    Go find somethinge better to do, like ways to prevent this problem. Or ways to accomodate your customers.

  8. radiofree says:

    Caught my own type: re-write:

    …i.e., isn’t there some type …

  9. phrygian says:

    @AndyMan1 – What’s even worse is that, when you steal a physical CD, it means there’s one less of that item in the store’s inventory to be sold. When you download 1 music file, there are still an infinite number of that file available to be sold. So materially, it’s even more backwards to levy larger fines for file sharing than for shoplifting.

  10. abartonkc says:

    I find the attempt to persuade the student to preserve evidence very funny. “We are going to sue you for potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, so if you wouldn’t mind, could you please preserve any evidence you might have that would help support our case.”

  11. Pelagius says:

    Dear College Students,

    Go here and follow the directions.

  12. KenyG says:

    hmm – If I shoplift a CD and am caught, wonder what financial penalty the theft would cost me.

    or if i have digital radio, and record a song – am I stealing?

    there are albums I have owned like 5 times over the course of my life, (showing my age here) LP, Cassette, CD… repurchased CD etc.

    guess declining sales have nothing to do with the crap thats being put out. How many of these so called artists today actually write their own songs and play their own music?

    fuck off RIAA

  13. musictech says:

    I believe they are going after Marshall because of the state they are in. West Virginia is one of the lowest cost of living areas in the country, if not the lowest. As such, it also is one of the lowest income areas in the US, with the average salary somewhere in the upper $30K per year range. What a better place for the RIAA to make an attack than on students who are probably making minimum wage in a state that has the lowest income in the country. The students will almost certainly not be able to afford good legal council.

  14. rreese says:

    So now that this template letter is out… are we now going to get spam letters with this in the mail telling us to go to a “settlement” site and enter in phishing info?

  15. royal72 says:

    i’m still waiting for a good, young, fresh lawyer looking to make a name for themselves and probably a ton of money, by filing a class action lawsuit against the riaa. there must be a million reasons to file such a suit and about two million loopholes in our wonderful legal system why the riaa has no grounds for any of this… hell, if oj can get off, well you get the idea.

    just to note, i certainly don’t advocate stealing what others create, but that is exactly what the riaa collectively does to it’s artists. i’d rather be able to buy directly from the artist and know that i didn’t buy some jackass sitting in a penthouse office, another mercedes for doing essentially nothing.

  16. Trai_Dep says:


    They’re being sued under the DCMA, which provides penalties of $750 per song. It’s a crock, but legally would require voiding that section of the act to make the infringement’s punishment “fair”.

  17. dcnight says:

    Through, the RIAA is using coercive and intimidating techniques to seek money via interstate communications. Behind their communications with certain colleges and universities is a threat to injure the reputations of targeted students and to accuse them of a crime. What do we call that? Extortion!! The RIAA’s tactics are criminal.

    U.S. Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter 41, Section 875 (d): Whoever, with intent to extort from any person … any money…, transmits in interstate … commerce any communication containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee or of another … or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

  18. medalian1 says:

    Someone who’s lost to the RIAA for a ton of money needs to go on a shooting spree with RIAA lawyers and put the fear of God into them, so they’ll stop representing and bring this bullshit.

  19. medalian1 says:

    Dammit it doesn’t post comments 1/2 the time. Anyway if someone would start capping those lawyers who represent the RIAA …

  20. Engadget had a post about a week ago that listed the top 25 schools to receive notices from the RIAA. I took notice because my alma mater is #1. (Hence my user name, which is far more appropriate on than here, but hey)

    I don’t know how they selected these schools- I never got the impression that any of those listed would be more prone to music piracy than others. Because piracy is so widespread, one would figure the most populous universities would be at the top of the list, or maybe the most technological schools.

    Or maybe the RIAA thought the administrations of these schools are the most likely to bend over.

  21. crayonshinobi says:

    Just resounding the popular opinion here. The RIAA is a bunch of assholes.

    However, what we need to be doing is contacting our congressmen and representatives and explaining that this sort of behavior won’t go unnoticed. The laws allowing the RIAA/MPAA to pursue these allegations and frivolous lawsuits were made by the people who supposedly “represent” us.

    What we need is the EFF to start up a fund to buy our politicians back from the RIAA/MPAA.

  22. Jeffers0n says:

    hmmm $750 per infringement? I’m guessing that it would be applied per song. That seems ridiculous. Lets do some math:
    100 songs(pretty small music collection) = $75,000
    500 songs(moderate collection) = $375,000
    1000 songs(getting bigger) = $750,000
    5000 songs(pretty large collection) = $3,750,000

    I know some people have well above 5000 songs in their music collection. I can’t see the public reacting positively to the RIAA suing a student for over a million dollars.

  23. SuperLex1000 says:

    More importantly, when was the last time you heard about a million dollar fine for ANYTHING? Enron, perhaps? Maybe WorldCom? You know, cases of out and out fraud in the 80 billion dollar range that financially wiped out thousands of people, and resulted in losses greater than the combined revenues of ALL the major record companies.

    There’s something highly unusual about the amounts being extorted in these cases. There’s also a Constitutional amendment (the 8th) barring cruel and unusual punishment.

    I’m almost positive that, if the Supreme Court struck down the provisions in the DCMA that allow for these unprecedented fines, the record companies would stop seeing their legal departments as profit centers, and get on with the development of business models for the 21st century.

  24. SuperLex1000 says:

    These amounts seem rather unusual – like a 10 year stint in Federal Prison for running a red light.

    Of course, we have a Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment (the 8th amendment.)

    What we don’t have (yet) is a constitutional challenge to the DMCA on the grounds that the punishments it mets out (and which encourage the RIAA to prosecute) are totally out of line with any other punishment in the criminal code.

  25. Jon says:

    Perhaps this is a good reason to push the new FAIR USE Act being proposed in congress now? Not sure if it helps with stuff like this, though.

  26. Stepehn Colbert says:

    haha, preserve evidence, thats funny. Well Marshall students, first thing you need to do is DELETE ALL YOUR INFO ON YOUR COMPUTER then, WIPE YOUR HARD-DRIVES, you can do this by TAKING A BAG FULL OF MAGNETS AND TOSSING YOUR COMPUTER AND OR LAPTOP IN IT.

  27. Musician78 says:

    All I know is this: I am a musician and I put a lot of work into my music in order to make sure it is perfect (to my ears). However, I do it for me and nobody else. If people were trading my music for free over the internet, I would be flattered and think that it was awesome that people actually wanted to hear my music. Fuck RIAA.

  28. AndyMan1 says:

    Well I understand that the fine comes from the DMCA, but my question comes more from if an entire song must be transferred. If I send someone 4 bytes of a song, it may very well be from a copy-infringed file, but are those bits significant enough to count as a full copy? If so, couldn’t you make the argument that either 1) those 4 bytes could equally be from *anything*? or 2) those 4 bytes could in no way be played on their own, and can’t be considered any useful type of data.

    And yet another significant law question for the armchair lawyers. Are you only required to preserve data upon getting subpoena?

    I know that if you get taken to court, you obviously can’t touch your harddrive unless you want some serious tampering with evidence charges. But if they’re sending you “we’ll play nice if we avoid the courts” letters, isn’t that leeway to destroy your data before an official subpoena arrives requesting it?

  29. juniper says:

    I have bad memories of being “flagged” by my university’s max upload/download limit, my internet in my dorm room being shut off, being threatened by the head internet security… for distributing my OWN music which I wholly created. Some colleges will really bend backwards to help the RIAA to the point of creating their own policing rules like my alma mater, even if they’re invalid.

    I hope Marshall’s IT department sticks up for these kids, but I’m not holding my breath.

  30. musictech says:

    I think that if I was some college students, I would be uninstalling my virus protection and removing any firewalls.

  31. ArntorFTL says:

    The two questions I have are:

    1. If you have a large shared folder available on some p2p network, are you liable for the $750 per song even if that particular song was never downloaded by anyone?

    2. How did the fine folks who forged the DMCA determine that offering a song in a shared folder constitutes $750 in material damage?

    I’m not a lawyer or anything, but damn this seems a bit arbitrary and extortionist.

  32. esqdork says:

    @Nero and @Andyman1:
    Always err on the side of caution and keep the files. Destroying evidence the minute you have an inkling that you will be sued (with or without a subpoena) is really bad news, pisses off the judge and there are ways of finding out. Basically, the assumption will be that you wouldn’t have destroyed something if you didn’t have something to hide. This all assuming that it gets to court.

    Also, someone suggested a shooting spree earlier. It goes without saying that murder is bad and should not be advocated.

  33. esqdork says:

    P.S. That was not legal advice in my earlier post. Also, let me just state for the record that nothing I post on Consumerist is legal advice.

  34. jdsmn says:

    Honest question – is it illegal to download something you already own on CD? I know you can backup your own cd’s and dvd’s legally. Maybe he could just borrow all the cd’s from friends and say that he owned them.

    Or maybe he could put up a wireless router with no security, and say that someone piggybacked on his signal without his knowledge.

  35. Phas3Sh1ft says:

    1)So what would happen if one would actually destroy their hard drive(s)? Seems like no evidence is no evidence.

    2)$750 per song is extremely unjustified, especially considering you can legally d/l them for $1.50. The punnishment doesn’t fit the crime.

    3)They moniter your traffic and get you on songs you d/l. However, they ask you to preserve all evidence, even things that you aren’t being charged for so you can pay for those as well. It’s like saying “Because you have one infraction, I have probable cause to look for others”. I wasn’t aware that it was legal to accuse me of one thing than tack on others after the fact. Again, this isn’t fair.

    4)People are talking about torrent sites and the fact that they share only a percentage of the song. I agree with this sentiment. I’d like to point out that many of the torrent sites that are out there are centered in European countries where there are no such anti-piracy laws. Perhaps we should all move to Sweeden.

  36. bcgrote says:

    I have been able to access p2p folders of some colleges online, and download things there without the software!! Am I also gonna be subpoenad? Gotta find me first!

  37. bcgrote says:

    ok, so we need some really smart comp sci major to write this program:

    takes the song, breaks it up into say, 9 second increments, if fair use is deemed 10 seconds. These 9 second increments are sent to the requester using a sort of anonymizer, so they can’t be tracked directly. Then this program will reintegrate the increments into the song.

    Voila, RIAA hopefully confused and averted!

  38. Blackneto says:

    jdsmn not sure about the legality of d/l something you already have, but they’d have to prove you did download it.

    the Real problem would be if you use a client that allows uploading while you are downloading.
    You then become guilty of distributing.

  39. Metschick says:

    And yet another significant law question for the armchair lawyers. Are you only required to preserve data upon getting subpoena?

    That would be spoliation of evidence and would get them into bigger trouble.

  40. Greg L says:

    I’m just curious what kind of society we live in where a private company can compel you to do something because they might sue you. If I sent you a letter saying I was going to sue you because I don’t like your hair color (and I could do that, these are civil suits we’re talking here in the first place,) and I was going to compel you to not get a hair cut until I decided to maybe think about filing a lawsuit? Wouldn’t want you ‘destroying any evidence’ would I?

  41. du2vye says:

    I’ve also known independent musicians that have had a hard time keeping links to their own music alive – somebody keeps reporting them as ‘copyright infringment’. Of course, it’s delete first – no questions asked (i.e. guilty until proven innocent, maybe).

    That’s only one weird part. What college student would own 5,000 files if they had to go out and spend $20 for a cd that they couldn’t use anywhere else or share with their friends?

    They would be confined to appreciating only the few musicians that the RIAA decieded to promote that year – and that is exactly what they want. Independent music is a threat (and getting bigger). A poll (several years ago now) by P2P showed that the top 50 requested downloads were not RIAA’s top artists. They were artists that RIAA labels did not consider commercially viable (Clapton should send a letter thanking P2P’s for making him popular again).

    And the RIAA knows this. They know people like me are so fed up that RIAA labels have been split off to sound like ‘independent labels’ to confuse customers (RIAA radar). They have even seeded or released a full track to try and promote an album coming out (Nickleback, Evanescence).

    So here’s the rub. The RIAA has not been successful prosecuting downloaders. They have only been successful (marginally) in prosecuting uploaders – which was the problem with the bigger P2P networks.

    So where are the anti-trust laws?

    University’s have a known need to share file for education purposes. They often offer licensed content radio to students. Their broadcasting and internet were considered ‘private’ or ‘public service’ – so why should they change now?

    College students wouldn’t have purchased the music anyway. But they are afraid of suing baby boomers because there’s a better chance of running into someone who will fight. They target ‘little guys’when you look at the cases (grandmas, grade schoolers, students) who can’t afford to fight.

    Some justice. They even got the F.B.I. doing THEIR dirty work by getting copright infringment as a felony. That’s nice. Now taxpayers get to pay for RIAA’s frivolity.

    Someday, someone will need to stand their ground beyond single individuals and I hope it will be universities.

  42. r3m0t says:

    @bcgrote: There is no specific definition of “fair use”. For example, 4 seconds of a pop song is not “fair use” if you are selling it as a ringtone. OTOH, if you are making a ringtone for your own mobile, it is probably fair use.

    If you are quoting the work as part of a critique or parody, you can probably have 20 seconds or more. (Usually you would have the presenter talking over the music for 20 seconds.)

    See the four factors at en-wiki. One of them is “the purpose and character of the use”. If the purpose is “to be part of a construction of the whole song”, then it isn’t fair use, even if I (as an individual) am only transmitting 9 seconds.

  43. ConstantCupcake says:

    Interesting. It’s such a bullying tactic and I wish more schools would sit up and fight for their students. Really the university’s should not be held responsible for turning over IPs without an actual lawsuit filed. Back in 2003 there was a case that decided just that. Federal Appeals decided that Verizon did not have to turn over addresses requested in a subpoena. Nevertheless the reason they send letters like this out is because were they to actually take each and every one of those kids to court it would likely be disastrous for them. Not only is there not clear cut legal precedence on their side (really they’ve only had any success in court with uploaders and even those cases are iffy) it would draw a lot of unwanted attention. This issue is waiting for court decisions to set precedence and I would imagine with all those kids, particularly the ones at the ivy schools, they are bound to run into at least one with the means and drive to bring a true legal case to them and there is no guarantee that that case would go the way the RIAA wants. They send these letters in hopes of scaring students out of their money since there is no reason for them to be certain they’d win all or even any of those cases were they to actually bring them. And if they didn’t they’ll be losing money rather than making it. in fact bringing suit would likely hurt them in several ways. I doubt very much they’d have the support of the public. It would be interesting to see an actual artist filing suit against a pirate, but of course the artists don’t own their own music, so that’s not likely to happen is it?

  44. mckindley says:

    Why does everyone seem to agree that stealing music off the internet is an unalienable right?

    Music belongs to whoever owns the copyright. When you buy it you only buy a copy of it. You don’t OWN the song. The songwriter does (if not the songwriter, whoever owns the copyright does). If he doesn’t want people giving it away for free on the internet, that’s his right.

    People only act like the RIAA is a bunch of jerks because they want to get their music for free even though they know it’s stealing.

    I feel for these college kids, but the RIAA was suing college kids for downloading before these kids ever GOT to college (This all started about 2002). It’s not like these kids didn’t know they were breaking laws. They know just like the rest of us. And now that they’re getting in trouble, they want to play the victim. “OOH, the big bad record labels want to take my money, but I’m a poor college student. What, oh what am I to do.” Quit stealing, that’s what.

    This is one thing they’ll learn in college: Don’t mess with people’s money.

  45. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    Yeah except the songwriter doesn’t own the music. The RIAA is harassing college students, and I have every intention of bringing suit against them for libel, slander, harassment, wasting my time, money and resources as well was defamation and the opportunity costs of fighting off a lawsuit if they send me one of these letters. Because I have never stolen anything in my life.