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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

University and RIAA Hold Hands

posted by on June 27 at 10:54 AM

Here is a portion of an e-mail was sent to all students at the University of Washington:

The RIAA is now sending colleges and universities a letter for each instance they find of a student illegally downloading material from the internet and requesting the university to identify the individual student and forward the letter to him or her…

The University has been notified by the RIAA that we will be receiving a number of these early settlement letters. After careful consideration, we have decided to forward the letters to the alleged copyright violators. We do so primarily because we believe students should have the opportunity to avail themselves of the settlement option if they so choose.

Let’s say Focus on the Family writes a series of letters to the university accusing a “John Doe” embryonic stem cell researcher at the university of violating federal restrictions on the creation of new lines. Mind you, they’ve shown no real material information that any individual has violated the law, just blanket accusations with flimsy identifying information.

They say to the university “give us personal information on every human embryonic stem cell researcher at the university or we’ll subpoena that information.”

The university replies: “Well, we can’t roll over that easily. Send us letters demanding that the recipient contact you or suffer severe legal concequences, and we’ll forward them to everyone working on human embryonic stem cells here. Then you’ll get your identifying information, and we’ll be off the hook.”

Whether the university is directly identifying students to the RIAA or indirectly does so by sending the students a letter directing them to contact the RIAA, the net result is the same.

Do people not understand why academic institutions MUST behave differently than this?

What if the oil industry threw letters at climatologists?

What if the junk food industry thew letters at obesity researchers?

The university has access to a massive collection of very personal information, including detailed financial, academic, and medical records. It is essential for the primary mission of the university to protect its members against angered outside forces. Without this commitment to protect academics, we’ll never be able to get honest answers to questions.

Shouldn’t the proper course have been to:
1. Not save identifying information in the first place?
2. Tell the RIAA to come back with their own damn identifying information?
3. Send letters instructing students to not self-incriminate themselves?
4. Provide proper legal services rather than (borderline negligent) legal advice to settle to any and all demands?

RSS icon Comments


Really, the school is just avoiding getting sued themselves, since they own and control the network, they are ultimately responsible for illegal downloads on their network. So... rather than face the consequences themselves, the university is forced (by blackmail) to pass the buck on to the student.

Posted by seattle98104 | June 27, 2007 11:12 AM

Blackmail or not, the University should be standing up to the unethical extortionist tactics of the RIAA. Regardless of "illegal downloads," the University should be resisting to the RIAA's exploitive actions. It's one thing to take actions against the students in order to prevent or deter illegal downloads internally, it's another to give away their information to a bunch of rabid dogs.

Posted by Jared | June 27, 2007 11:15 AM

Just use Soulseek. You'll be fine.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 27, 2007 11:16 AM

Jonathan, actually, as public institutions and as researchers using public funds, information on violations of grant funding rules are taken very seriously, and the information must be publicly available. Your stem cell comparison does not work with regards to the RIAA example.

Posted by chunkstyle | June 27, 2007 11:20 AM

Many universities operate their network as a service provider not an Enterprise. The DMCA requires them to respond to takedown notices when the RIAA provides information on someone actively doing P2P file-sharing of infringing material. What I don't like is that the way the University worded the settlement offer.
"We do so primarily because we believe students should have the opportunity to avail themselves of the settlement option if they
so choose."

I am against people not paying for music that the musician has not given away and granted a license to distribute. I also think the RIAA is out for itself and not the artists. They are as bad as SCO trying to make a living with lawsuits instead of learning how to promote good music that people will pay for..

I love the rumor/fact that Paul McCartney is considering leaving his label and working with Starbucks to distribute his music. Sure, Starbucks can't carry every new CD by indie artists, but I see his new cd every day when I get a coffee.

Posted by Peter John Hill | June 27, 2007 11:21 AM

Students shouldn't be stealing copywritten material, and the universities have no right to protect the student's criminal activity. The RIAA should work to eventually have these little thieving bastards thrown in prison. And Jared, you should go stick forks in your eyeballs.

Posted by Dickface McAsshat | June 27, 2007 11:22 AM

chunkstyle, I believe the University network is paid for by the STF fun, and so is actually funded by the students.

Posted by jared | June 27, 2007 11:23 AM

Nice theory, Jonathon, but most of us live in the real world where the Red Supreme Court says you don't have free speech or rights.

Come back and argue your case when that changes - until then, get off your high horse.

And the Net feed is a fed project ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 27, 2007 11:26 AM

You are right, clearly I made a serious miscalculation. But your tact and reason have brought me to light. I appreciate your help in bringing about this epiphany.

If you don't believe that the RIAA's actions are explotive (on the part of "illegal downloaders" or artists for that matter) then you gouged your eyes out long ago.

Posted by jared | June 27, 2007 11:27 AM

"To not self-incriminate themselves?" Should the university have also warned students not to self-incriminate others?

Posted by andrew b | June 27, 2007 11:30 AM

Don't steal music. There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.

Posted by Big Sven | June 27, 2007 11:32 AM

ps- services like Yahoo Music Unlimited charge $6 a month to listen to whatever you want. If you can't afford $72 a year, perhaps you should just listen to the radio.

Posted by Big Sven | June 27, 2007 11:34 AM

Sooner or later I hope artists realize the irrelevancy of the RIAA and the record labels it represents.

In the age of the internet there is no excuse for not doing your own distribution, marketing and touring.

The RIAA fights so viciously precisely because they know this to be true.

Posted by Griff | June 27, 2007 11:36 AM

People like Big Sven just don't get it. I took a moment to check Yahoo Music Unlimite, and I looked up 5 artists I have recently been listening to... Guess what? Not a single one was there.

So where do I go to nab the extremely rare 7in Merzbow issues? Where do I go to find rare classical or avant-garde releases?

Get off your high horse and realize that your generalizations are worthless.

Posted by jared | June 27, 2007 11:37 AM

Hello... "college" kids... top('ish) school in the nation... hello??
What were the students thinking... nobody would notice their bandwidth usage?

Too bad for those kids... I hear the RIAA is always a big fan of the "wasn't me" defense. That should clear everything up... yeah right.

As they say, don't do the crime if you can't do the time... or pay the fines, as the case might be.

Posted by Phenics | June 27, 2007 11:41 AM

The Universities of Wisconsin and Maine stood up to the RIAA, citing intimidation and circumvention of the legal process.

The University of Nebraska charges the RIAA a processing fee of $11 per letter.

The RIAA ought to stop suing its customers, and the UW ought to do something besides just roll over.

Posted by GL | June 27, 2007 11:48 AM

I agree with GL's comment.

Posted by Phelix | June 27, 2007 11:50 AM

Wait, are they actually giving the RIAA the e-mail addresses or are they just fowarding it to the students?

Posted by Cale | June 27, 2007 11:54 AM

I swear I read this exact post on Slashdot yesterday ...

Wow, I did! Too bad I can't mod it up any higher.

Posted by medeii | June 27, 2007 12:10 PM

Here we go again: the comment above, number 6 at this writing, marked "Posted by Fnarf", is not by me and does not represent my view. Could a Stranger staffer delete the message? Thanks.

Posted by Fnarf | June 27, 2007 12:26 PM

"Copywritten", Fnarf?

Stealing is when you take something away from someone and they don't have it anymore. Making a copy isn't stealing. It may be copyright violation, which also may be a crime (or merely a civil matter), but it's not stealing. To call it such is to obfuscate the issue.

And remember not to self-incriminate yourselves. Always let someone else self-incriminate you.

Posted by pox | June 27, 2007 12:31 PM

Ah. Sorry, Fnarf. I didn't think that sounded like you when I read it, and I was surprised you'd get that word wrong.

Posted by pox | June 27, 2007 12:33 PM

@16 - now that was useful info.

and if they'd just release the untranslated anime vids they do in Japan at the same time in the US, none of this would be a problem ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 27, 2007 12:56 PM

Hey jared, do the rare bands that you like distribute their music for free? No? Maybe they don't have a mechanism to do so. Oh, right, there's the INTERNET for that sort of thing. Why wouldn't they just put there music on a web site?

BECAUSE THEY DON'T WANT YOU TO STEAL THEIR MUSIC. They want you to buy their album. My "high horse" comes from respect for my friends that make music for a living.

Posted by Big Sven | June 27, 2007 12:57 PM


"Where do I go to find rare classical or avant-garde releases?"

Are you honestly saying that you steal music because you can't be bothered to go out to and ebay?

Posted by Big Sven | June 27, 2007 1:02 PM

Downloading makes money for artists; it doesn't take away from them. And Sven, a tiny, tiny fraction of the commercial music made even this past year, let alone in the past, is available on Amazon or Ebay.

Posted by Fnarf | June 27, 2007 1:08 PM

Maybe you are "original fnarf" now.

Posted by Tiz | June 27, 2007 1:17 PM

Comment 26 is by me, the original Fnarf. Comment 6 is not. This comment here, whatever number it ends up being assigned, is by me. How meta.

Posted by Fnarf | June 27, 2007 1:26 PM

to medeii @19:

Yeah, and the Slashdot post was made 8+ hours after Slog posted it.


Posted by GW2 | June 27, 2007 1:28 PM

Yeah, the slashdot post was also written by me. I just cross-posted it to Slog.

Sorry for the confusion.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | June 27, 2007 1:41 PM

fnarf, you usually make sense. But I get neither...

"Downloading makes money for artists; it doesn't take away from them"


"a tiny, tiny fraction of the commercial music made even this past year, let alone in the past, is available on Amazon or Ebay"

Neither seem intutively obvious to me. Can you elaborate on both statements?

Posted by Big Sven | June 27, 2007 1:45 PM

@6 - interesting name.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 27, 2007 2:21 PM

Sven: Sharing is a form of promotion. Sharing sells records, just like home taping did. And everybody does it, but EVERYBODY. The frigging Bush twins just made their daddy an ILLEGAL mix CD for his workout music -- mix CDs are against the law, according to the RIAA -- and instead of a threatening letter, they got some fawning media coverage.

Copying music is NECESSARY in order to use it properly; between multiple computers, stereos, in the car, on the iPod. The RIAA thinks that's a crime. Even people like Bill Gates think that's stupid.

The list of things that are wrong with the RIAA approach is endless. For starters, you are granting police powers to a private company. They say it's for the artists, but many, many artists are not protected by the RIAA at all, and never receive anything from them. The RIAA is protecting themselves, not artists.

The flexibility of digital music -- which was initially foisted on consumers against their will, when CDs were introduced, remember -- is by now a very powerful pull. The alternative of DMA-ridden junk products is doomed, because (a) DMA can never work and (b) any business that sells a deliberately crippled product that has less functionality than a free version of the same exact product is DOOMED.

Any business that depends for revenue on SUING ITS CUSTOMERS is likewise doomed. The RIAA is driving people away from recorded music; these people will not end up going back to the stores -- they will give up and play video games instead. Commercial music just isn't that attractive an item anymore, and it's stupid record companies and stupid record company associations that are a huge part of the reason why.

As for your other question, do you want a fucking list? There is a HUGE, HUGE quantity of music out there in the indie world -- not just mopey emo rockers but the guy who plays the harp down at the Market -- he's got a couple of CDs, and you can't buy them at Amazon, and he's never seen a penny from the RIAA. But if you share his music electronically the RIAA will bust you and fine you and violate your rights just the same.

It's a losing battle, my friend. The winners are going to be those who figure out how to ADD value to digital music, not take it away.

The record companies have gotten a free ride for too long, and are now paying for it, because they no longer have a freaking CLUE what "value" even means. That's one reason popular music in America sucks so hard. The industry the RIAA is protecting isn't "artists" -- artists get fucked. CON artists, more like -- like American Idol.

And yes, I buy a hundred CDs a year, and "illegally" copy tons more. Movies, too. Sometimes I do it just for fun.

Posted by Fnarf | June 27, 2007 2:45 PM


Thank you for clarifying what you meant. I still think downloading copywritten music is stealing.

First you say you're helping the artists. Then you say everybody does it. Then you say you do it because the RIAA are a bunch of tools. Then you say you do it because current music blows. Then you say you do it for fun.

Do an experment- look up some place that you like. For me it would be the Conor Byrne. Pick a night. Look at the bands playing. Look up their web site. EVERY band offers whatever they've got online. If they believe, as you, that giving music away encourages listnership, then they do so. If they don't, they offer CDs. Some give you a teaser song or two, with CDs.

But it's THEIR choice. Because it's THEIR music. If you buy their CD, you have to play by THEIR rules. I have maybe a dozen friends in bands in the Seattle area, and they *all* say they don't want people copying their CDs for anyone and everyone. Sometimes they don't mind a cut here or there on a mix tape- I ASK first. But making a CD is hard work and costs money.

Ultimately you're taking food out of the mouths of local artists, no matter how you dress up your theft in "rage against the system" or "I'm too cool to care" arguments.

Posted by Big Sven | June 28, 2007 2:02 AM

ps- When I said " or ebay" I should have said "resellers or band sites on the internet." My point was: now that the internet is everywhere, bands have a way to make their music available to you directly. (And cut out the middle man in the process.)

Posted by Big Sven | June 28, 2007 2:16 AM

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