The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is facing resistance from universities in its stepped-up college enforcement campaign. The latest complications involve the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which was unable to identify a large number of targeted students due to technical issues.
The Nebraska network dynamically assigns IP addresses to students, and frequently switches the numerical identifiers. Furthermore, the university disposes records after one month, making it difficult to adequately match addresses with actual student identities. Out of a total crop of 23 targeted students, IT administrators at Nebraska were only able to identify 9, a result that frustrated the trade group.
“One would think universities would understand the need to retain these records,” said RIAA representative Jenni Engebretsen in recent comments to the Omaha World-Herald. The dynamic IP assignment snag is just one component in a contentious relationship.
According to Nebraska officials, each RIAA request for student identification requires administrative costs to process, and the school has actually requested reimbursements for its efforts. That was flatly refused, though the development indicates a highly uncooperative stance.
“It is neither practical nor appropriate for us to entertain a reimbursement request,” Engebretson said. The standoff follows a refusal by administrators at the University of Wisconsin to forward RIAA pre-litigation letters to students, a development that first bubbled this week.
Whether an early-stage snowball is forming remains to be seen, though schools appear mostly uninterested in joining the policing efforts. Meanwhile, the RIAA recently sent an additional 405 pre-litigation settlement letters to students and 23 universities, part of a serious enforcement push this year.
The RIAA has been known to send letters to universities asking them to identify students who are illegally downloading copyrighted music. The letters usually ask the universities to forward the letters to the individual students. In some cases, the RIAA has also asked universities to block certain websites that are used for illegal downloads.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is not the only university that has had difficulties complying with the RIAA’s requests. The University of Wisconsin-Madison recently refused to forward RIAA pre-litigation letters to students, citing privacy concerns.
The RIAA has been criticized for its heavy-handed tactics in its campaign against illegal downloading. Many people believe that the RIAA is overly aggressive in its pursuit of copyright infringers, and that it is targeting the wrong people.
Many students who receive pre-litigation letters from the RIAA are not aware that they have been downloading copyrighted material illegally. They may have downloaded music or movies from peer-to-peer networks without realizing that they were breaking the law.
Universities are caught in the middle of this conflict. On one hand, they want to support the rights of copyright holders and discourage illegal downloading. On the other hand, they want to protect the privacy of their students and avoid being seen as heavy-handed enforcers.
It remains to be seen how this conflict will play out. The RIAA may continue to send pre-litigation letters to universities, but it is clear that many universities are not willing to comply with the RIAA’s requests. The issue of illegal downloading is a complex one, and it is unlikely that a simple solution will be found anytime soon.