Is The RIAA Afraid Of Harvard?

Of all the Ivy League schools, Harvard is the only one to have escaped the deluge of RIAA pre-litigation letters. What gives?

Ars Technica speculates:

There may be another factor at work here: hostility towards the RIAA’s campaign on the part of Harvard Law School professors Charles Nesson and John Palfrey, who run the law school’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Responding to the RIAA’s claim that its litigation strategy has “invigorated a meaningful conversation on college campuses about music theft, its consequences and the numerous ways to enjoy legal music,” the profs called on Harvard to not betray the “trust and privacy” of its students.

“The university has no legal obligation to deliver the RIAA’s messages. It should do so only if it believes that’s consonant with the university’s mission,” wrote Nesson and Palfrey. “[The RIAA seems] to be engaging in a classic tactic of the bully facing someone much weaker: threatening such dire consequences that the students settle without the issue going to court. The issue is that the university should not be carrying the industry’s water in bringing lawsuits.”

Meanwhile, the 68-year-old CEO of Universal Music Group, Doug “Repositories For Stolen Music” Morris, recently told Wired that the record industry was (is?) so clueless about technology that they couldn’t even figure out if someone was lying to them or not:

Morris insists there wasn’t a thing he or anyone else could have done differently. “There’s no one in the record company that’s a technologist,” Morris explains. “That’s a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”

Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn’t an option. “We didn’t know who to hire,” he says, becoming more agitated. “I wouldn’t be able to recognize a good technology person — anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me.” Morris’ almost willful cluelessness is telling. “He wasn’t prepared for a business that was going to be so totally disrupted by technology,” says a longtime industry insider who has worked with Morris. “He just doesn’t have that kind of mind.”

Why the RIAA may be afraid of targeting Harvard students [Ars Technica]
Universal’s CEO Once Called iPod Users Thieves. Now He’s Giving Songs Away. [Wired via BoingBoing]
(Photo:Joe Shlabotnik)


Edit Your Comment

  1. ironchef says:

    funny they don’t go after law schools either. LOL.

  2. Anonymous says:

    my thoughts exactly.

    why do they not go after harvard? easy! Harvard Law.

  3. that’s adorable.

  4. Jaysyn was banned for: says:

    Yeah, how funny would it be for a prof. to assign coursework that was basically, Destroy the RIAA using the legal system.

  5. *sigh* OK, so where does this leave us legally now? That one woman sued for harassment or whatever, and they WON’T serve Harvard, because Harvard won’t stand for it, which I would think could be construed as “they’re really not all THAT interested in legal remedy”, since that one person lost their property for the same reason…

  6. smitty1123 says:

    I’ve always thought the RIAA didn’t target Harvard because the whole fight between the RIAA and music pirates is a secret ploy by the Freemasons and the League of Women Voters to distract those with tech knowhow from noticing that they are slowly stealing the internet and replacing it with one that they control.

  7. lincolnparadox says:

    The RIAA is interested in the easy money. For every tiny victory that the defendants make during a court case, another 1200 kids have rolled over and spent two semester’s worth of cash to make the RIAA “go away.”

    I hope the boogeyman gets the RIAA.

  8. Shadowfire says:

    @ironchef: Yes they do, just not after Harvard. If you read the entire Ars article, they talk about Yale and other ivy schools getting letters, but not Harvard.

  9. RvLeshrac says:


    Doesn’t do anything. The RIAA’s notices to various schools were not binding in the first place.

    Unfortunately, most schools don’t have the money to fight. They would, of course, but instead they’re spending millions of dollars on sports BS instead of anything of educational value.

  10. @RvLeshrac: Yeah, I know that’s how UCLA rolls. They’re ALWAYS talking about how strapped they are for cash, but the players never suffer.

  11. kenposan says:

    Bush’s daughters made him an illegal mix CD for his last b-day. RIAA hasn’t gone after them yet either. How selective it is in the way they “enforce” law.


  12. godawgs7 says:

    @RvLeshrac: yea, that sports BS is such a money waster. I would much rather return to my school for a rousing tea party. That would really inspire me to whip out my check book.
    While sports programs typically do cost a lot, they bring in an amazing amount of money. I went to UGA and without the dawgs football we would not have the academic buildings or resources we do now.
    And you may snarkly think to yourself that UGA is not Harvard, but i have several friends who went to Harvard and Yale and they look forward to the rivalry each year. Ivy League alumni care about their teams as much as state school kids. And while they may not see Yale on TV every weekend, they will think back to their time on the squash team and remember what a good time they had and wish to give back so that others may experience such pleasure.

    If nothing else (ie assuming that sports programs are in the red), it puts a school w/ a good sports team out there on the national stage and inspires people to go there. Advertising isnt free.

  13. godawgs7 says:

    Also, this is a similar comment i made over on People saying that they didn’t go after Harvard b/c of their law school are ignoring the fact that all the other ivys have law schools as well. Yale is actually ranked #1.

    I don’t think RIAA is scared of a prominent law school. Their track record demonstrates that.

  14. cde says:

    @SpiderJerusalem: WTF are you talking about?

  15. ElizabethD says:

    GODAWGS57: Not all Ivy colleges have law schools.

  16. bertrand says:

    @RvLeshrac: i agree with godawgs, at my school (texas) football brings in millions in revenue for the school each year. it pays for itself and contributes not only money but a sense of school spirit and community to the campus.

  17. @cde: in regards to what, sugar lips?

  18. RandomHookup says:

    Well, Harvard has more money than God and better lawyers.

  19. godawgs7 says:

    @ElizabethD: sorry. Brown, Princeton and Dartmouth don’t. I misspoke and should have said MOST instead of ALL.

    But my argument still stands. The RIAA is not going to be dissuaded to sue b/c of HLS.
    Law school rankings according to US News:
    #1 – Yale
    #2 – Harvard
    #5 – Columbia
    #6 – UPenn

  20. harvardfag says:

    I went to Harvard undergrad. When I was there, the university enforced rules against file sharing programs. If you were caught sharing twice, you would lose internet access for an entire semester. Perhaps the reason the RIAA isn’t going after my classmates is because the school has network rules against file-sharing.

    Finally, the opinion two professors naturally does not necessarily represent the opinion of Harvard administration.

  21. bravo369 says:

    I bet Harvard Law would just love to take on the RIAA and create their own case law. Not that most lawyers do, but I bet they especially won’t care about whether they are right or wrong…they’ll just accept the challenge to take down the monopoly that is the RIAA. Harvard will tie up the RIAA with case law, motions and affidavits to keep them busy for the next decade. One of them will be bound to work.

  22. mconfoy says:

    @RvLeshrac: I worked hard in college. Are you telling me that I had no right to expect a decent product to be put on the field each Saturday for my entertainment? Guess I could have gone to some little pissant liberal arts college in New England, but I went where I went expecting good product on Saturday.

  23. cde says:

    @SpiderJerusalem: In regards to the women suing for harrasement or that one person who lost their property

  24. Catperson says:

    @Mconfoy: You worked hard in college, so you expect some sort of “product” in the form of an athletic game? That makes no sense whatsoever. Furthermore, I have a feeling that most of the people who complain about the money being poured into athletics ARE going to “pissant liberal arts” colleges who don’t get a quality product from their teams. I go to a Big Ten school and our athletics team actually donates money to other parts of the school because they make so much. But there is a problem there – the athletics department having so much money that the rest of the university (y’know, the teachers and whatnot) has to depend on their beneficence to keep things rolling.

  25. @cde: Some woman countersued the RIAA for harassment, and I believe Consumerist covered it.

    As for the other thing, I can’t find the linky, but some person lost some property that their neighbors were appropriating because they weren’t showing that much interest in defending their property until they filed the lawsuit.

  26. ninjatales says:

    @SpiderJerusalem: Great idea but it somehow falls short because the RIAA is actively seeking to control their property.

  27. Neurotic1 says:

    What gets me is the music/movie industry goes to hell and back to get people to pay but they won’t pay their own writers. Aren’t the writers in Hollywood making the same arguement that the RIAA is making? Just shows the hypocrisy.

  28. I took a class at the Harvard Extension School on Internet & Law, and John Palfrey was one of the teachers. He’s *awesome*, and understands the present and future of digital ownership better than anyone I can think of outside of Lawrence Lessig. During the class, we studied and discussed several methods by which intellectual property (esp. music) could be distributed to the benefit of everyone, with art being more accessible to the public and musicians making 50%+ of their gross sales (instead of 2% or less, now) — the only problem is, all of those solutions were bad for the RIAA in its current form. We also viewed and discussed some “illegal” Internet content, and at one point Professor Palfrey publically DARED the RIAA to sue him or Harvard (while the video for the “Grey Album” played on a big screen in the class), stating that their tactics were illegal and they knew that their stance was legally “iffy”, hence they would never sue someone like him who was in a position to really argue the case.

    That was 3 years ago. And they still haven’t sued him, or the school he would be representing in such a case…hmm. Shock.

  29. Trumps says:

    @smitty1123: “I’ve always thought the RIAA didn’t target Harvard because the whole fight between the RIAA and music pirates is a secret ploy by the Freemasons and the League of Women Voters to distract those with tech knowhow from noticing that they are slowly stealing the internet and replacing it with one that they control.”

    Whoa dude? Wtf?! Thats crazy talk! Women can vote?

  30. mac-phisto says:

    i have absolute faith in the impartiality of our judicial process & believe with every inkling of my being that 5 of the 9 scotus sitting justices being harvard law grads has nothing whatsoever to do with it.


  31. Valhawk says:

    Because Harvard has enough money and well off and politically connected alumni to completly destroy RIAA.

  32. RvLeshrac says:


    I totally shouldn’t be resurrecting a dead topic, and I doubt anyone will read this (how did I even get on this page?).

    BUT… if the sports teams pay for themselves and provide large amounts of money to the schools – why are there surchages on your university bill for the athletic center and more general “sports”?