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In kindergarten, the first thing we learn is that sharing is caring. In college, this idea could cost you thousands of dollars.

On Sept. 20, the RIAA sent 35 ASU students pre-litigation notices — a letter outlining the RIAA's intent to sue that gives the recipient an option to settle before going to court. This is in addition to 23 students who received notices in February.

In an attempt to limit illegal file sharing on college campuses, the Recording Industry Association of America is in the midst of a campaign targeting university students and faculty in an attempt to curtail illegal music downloading. Since the campaign's launch, about 3,329 pre-litigation notices have been issued to American universities, according to the RIAA.

Just last month, 503 students and faculty at 58 universities were sent pre-litigation notices in the RIAA's seventh wave of collegiate settlement letters. This month, 403 notices were sent to 22 universities, including ASU.

For the RIAA, downloading at the university level has no end in sight and therefore, neither do the lawsuits.

The threat of an RIAA lawsuit being slapped on any ASU student participating in illegal file sharing is here and very real.

'Easy targets'

Chris Ly, an ASU alumnus who settled with the RIAA when he was a journalism senior in 2005, is among the now thousands of college students who have been served with a pre-litigation notice from the Recording Industry Association of America, outlining the group's intent to sue for illegal file sharing.

"To me it seems like they are going after the easy targets," Ly says in an e-mail. "College students don't have the money and knowledge to fight these types of lawsuits."

Whether it is lack of knowledge on the student's part or just a willingness to settle file-sharing suits without a mess, the RIAA has set out to accommodate the thousands of people it is suing. Simply by using their Visa, MasterCard or Discover card, "John Doe" can settle his case online at without going to court. On the Web site, a user can enter his or her case identification number as found on the pre-litigation notice, which will lead them to the amount they will pay to the RIAA and record companies.

But Ly settled in a more traditional way. The pre-litigation letter spelled out that the RIAA was onto Ly's downloading and gave him a phone number to call if he wanted to settle with the RIAA without going to court.

Ly, who was using popular peer-to-peer file-sharing program Kazaa Lite, says he quit downloading music illegally a couple months before he was given a pre-litigation notice.

"I got an iPod and started buying music off of iTunes for it rather than downloading it off of file-sharing programs," he says.

But Ly couldn't erase the past. The RIAA had identified him as a copyright criminal. Ly sent a cashier's check of approximately $4,000 to the lawyers representing the record companies, which thousands like him have done.

Kevin King, a history junior, received a pre-litigation letter from the RIAA in October 2005. King's father thought the notice was unbelievable — literally.

"My dad threw out the first one because he thought it was spam," King says. "We settled out of court after we did a little research and discovered that conviction would be a sure thing."

The RIAA sent King a list of songs they believe he downloaded. At the top of the list were two songs by King's own band from high school. King ended up paying $3,800.

Fighting back

Every university targeted by the RIAA is faced with a decision whether to protect its students from being sued or to comply with the RIAA's wishes in forwarding settlement letters.

Pam Gerace, North Carolina State University's director of student legal services, warned students against revealing themselves to the RIAA, even if slapped with a settlement letter.

Gerace says the RIAA could pursue other legal actions with the names, including giving the names to record companies, according to NCSU's campus newspaper The Technician.

But unlike NCSU and other universities like the University of Kansas and the University of Nebraska, who have refused to forward pre-litigation letters to their students, ASU has complied with the RIAA.

Adrian Sannier, vice president of ASU's University Technology Office, says ASU wants to give the affected students a choice in deciding whether or not they want to pursue with the lawsuit on their own.

It's a "hard problem" in deciding whether to be worried about the RIAA subpoenaing the university or protecting a member of the ASU community, Sannier says. ASU officials decided that the university was not divulging student information to the RIAA by simply forwarding the letters to the accused file sharer and proceeded in distributing the letters.

David Swain, managing attorney at ASU's Student Legal Assistance Office, says 19 students from the February wave of letters have come to him seeking legal advice in dealing with the RIAA. Swain says ASU has not released any student information or identifications to the RIAA.

'Don't fear the RIAAper'

The RIAA's tactics haven't won the group a lot of support in the blogosphere.

George Ziemann, musician and blogger on, has been outspoken about the RIAA lawsuits.

"My disdain for the record labels came before the lawsuits," Ziemann says in an e-mail. "I'm outspoken about the lawsuits because, from a musicians' point of view, telling people not to listen to your music is simply ludicrous."

On his Web site, Ziemann encourages any person accused of illegal file sharing, student or otherwise, to take the RIAA to court and tell them to "prove it."

Ziemann is not alone in his anger. More than 60 anti-RIAA groups exist on Facebook comprising thousands of members. In March, the visit of an RIAA representative at ASU inspired a protest, with students holding signs reading "Don't fear the RIAAper" and "Download like it's 1999."

Mishka Bier was an ASU sophomore when he stopped to pursue a musical career. Bier, who has done fill-in guitar work for popular bands like A Cursive Memory, says illegal downloading doesn't hurt but actually helps struggling artists.

"There are negative effects on the industry, but not from the artist's perspective," he says. "If you look at it, more kids will be coming to the show if they end up 'stealing' the album, and you'll be getting more money from the venue, and if you don't suck as an artist and the kids really like you, they'll buy a shirt. The positive greatly outweighs the negative. The money lost on a CD sale is tiny compared to that of the money gained from ticket and merch sales."

Mainstream artists split on their views of illegal music downloads. Artists like Mary J. Blige, DMX, the Dixie Chicks, Shakira, P. Diddy and even the late Luciano Pavarotti came out against file sharing, according to the Web site However, the Washington Post has reported that artists like Chuck D and Jason Mraz support file-sharing sites, and a 2004 poll by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found a majority of artists didn't think file sharing was a major threat, even though most thought it should be illegal.

Death of the music industry?

Though artists might not be too concerned, the RIAA says the music industry as a whole certainly is. More than 1.3 billion files were illegally downloaded by college students last year, which adds up, the group says.

During his visit to the ASU campus in March during security week, RIAA's senior vice president David Hughes says he thinks illegal downloading could be the death of the music industry unless something is quickly changed.

"The music industry is on the verge of a big change," Hughes says. "Whether it's the current major record companies, whether it's the independent labels … their economics are going to be very similar and piracy is going to disable them."

Hughes says illegal file sharing is not allowing them to invest time and money into new and unique artists, so consumers are left with only what sells.

"The labels don't have the money to gamble on interesting and … financially risky artists," said RIAA representative Hughes during his March visit to ASU. "So music fans get the lowest common denominator. You get the former Mickey Mouse Clubs. You get the Britneys and the Justins and the Jessica Simpsons, and anybody else the labels are confident that can sell a decent amount on the first … single."

A representative with the RIAA says the campaign is not a moneymaker for the group; all the money the association takes in from the settlements goes back into anti-piracy and education efforts, she says.

Where ASU's violations stack up

The RIAA claims that the ASU network is one of the worst collegiate violators of copyright law. ASU officials disagree.

In February, the RIAA ranked ASU 24th on its top 25 worst offenders of pirated music, but Sannier says that statement is simply inaccurate. The sheer number of students who attend ASU give the RIAA's results bias, Sannier says. With over 65,000 students on all four campuses, Sannier points out that ASU's percentage of complaints is below any other school on the worst offenders list by between 5 to 20 percent.

"That's like saying all of the murders are in California," he says. "We have sort of the same kind of numbers of complaints as [5,300-student] Seton Hall College, and we're some kind of giant offender."

During his visit during Security Week in March, Hughes of the RIAA says ASU and other schools with students being sued should not feel victimized. "We have no ability or intention to target any single school," Hughes says. He called the lawsuits a form of "education through litigation."

Maybe there is no intention to target any school, but the students who have been sued say it is surreal. "It's an odd feeling knowing that I could have just as likely gone on downloading for years and years if this [lawsuit] didn't happen," ASU alum and lawsuit target Ly says.

Fellow music sharer King says the RIAA was going to sue him for much more than the $3,800 he settled for had he taken the case to court. King says he had downloaded approximately 1,100 songs using file sharing program Kazaa Lite — the same program Ly was using.

At the time Ly was sued, he had 800 songs on his computer, half of which he says were from compact discs he purchased after downloading a single he liked.

Struggling to adapt

Sannier of the UTO says while ASU has made an effort to prevent piracy by installing anti-piracy software, people will always find a way to get their music for free.

The battle between those who are sharing music and the music industry is an "arms race," and whatever measures a school takes in order to prevent piracy, a few months later there will be a way to get around that obstacle, Sannier says.

The only way to get around the "escalating chain" of collegiate piracy is for the music marketplace to change, Sannier says.

"[The music industry] is selling records based on the idea that they need to be delivered by physical devices [such as CD's]," Sannier says, adding that the industry is slowly adapting and that peer-to-peer technologies have completely transformed the music industry.

Suspicious peer-to-peer traffic is being monitored and halted on the ASU network through software called Audible Magic, Sannier says. If a student thinks that his or her peer-to-peer traffic is legitimate and shouldn't be blocked, they can contact the University Technology Office, Sannier says.

"What's interesting is, we haven't seen any of that," Sannier says of petitions to allow legal peer-to-peer traffic. "So we think our Audible Magic filter is configured so that legitimate P2P traffic is working and illegitimate traffic isn't."

An alternative to file sharing services, Ruckus, a legal music downloading service, is free for ASU students. Ruckus offers over 2.5 million songs to college students across the country.

But a particular file cannot always be found on Ruckus, which is why Sannier says he thinks students might turn to illegal downloading, fully knowledgeable of its risks.

Former ASU student and musician Bier says illegally downloading music is "like having sex without a condom."

"Kids know that they could get STDs if they aren't practicing safe sex, but they're going to do it anyways," he says. "Who honestly thinks that they're going to be sued by the RIAA for downloading music?"

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