March 16, 2007

University of Wisconsin Stands Up to RIAA

A student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison forwarded to me the email quoted below, which was apparently sent to all students. It makes me proud to be an alumnus of UW: the University is refusing to forward to students the vaguely extortionate “settlement” letters the RIAA has been asking universities to send to their students, and recognizes that not all unauthorized P2P sharing of copyrighted works is illegal.

From: UW-Madison Office of the CIO
Date: Mar 16, 2007 11:54 AM
Subject: UW-Madison copyright compliance notice

The recording industry is threatening lawsuits against those who may have engaged in illegal file sharing. They are currently targeting students who live in university residence halls. Recently, UW-Madison and other universities have been notified that they will receive settlement letters that are to be passed on to the individuals whom the senders believe to be guilty of copyright infringement. Consistent with current network management procedures and our understanding of federal law, UW-Madison does not plan to forward these letters directly to campus network users. We will, of course, comply with a valid subpoena.

However, if the UW-Madison is given cause to believe that a student, faculty or staff network user may have infringed on copyrights, it will take action. University network policies empower the CIO to terminate that person’s network access until the matter is resolved. The Dean of Students office (for students) or supervisors (for employees) will be notified and other disciplinary action may be taken, as appropriate.

Unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted works is illegal in many circumstances, and a violation of the university’s Appropriate Use Policy. Please be advised of your rights and responsibilities under these rules. For more information, see: security/policies/ appropriate_use.asp

Ken Frazier
Interim CIO,

UPDATE, 19 March: A story in the Badger Herald has this great quote from a UW IT department spokesman:

“These settlement letters are an attempt to short circuit the legal process to rely on universities to be their legal agent,” Rust said. “It basically says, you are illegally downloading and/or sharing information; and before we take legal action, you can remedy this situation and pay for the music or movies that you’ve downloaded.”

Rust said DoIT receives about 10 to 20 cease-and-desist notices per day, which they are obligated to forward to their users. The notices are only warnings, Rust added, but the settlement letters brought on by the Recording Industry Association of America are more of a threat.

The settlements are usually around $700 per instance, but could be as much as $3,500, according to Rust.

“So you can imagine some people have probably come to that website with their credit card and paid it,” Rust said. “We do not want to be a party to that; we are not the legal agent for the recording agency, nor do we aspire to (be).”

UPDATE, 20 March: The Wisconsin State Journal has this article on UW’s rejection of the RIAA’s “settlement letters.” Also, Slashdot has run an item linking to this post.

Disclaimer Haiku:
West wind seems to say,
"This is not legal advice;
I'm not your lawyer."

(And if you're a client with whom I have a preexisting attorney-client relationship, this still isn't legal advice.)

In case you're wondering, this blog is also not intended as advertising, as a representation of anything but my personal opinion, or as an offer of representation.

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