RIAA Sends Institute 19 Settlement Letters Alleging Infringement

Nineteen members of the MIT community have been asked by the recording industry to preemptively settle lawsuits for allegedly downloading music illegally on peer-to-peer networks, according to a Jan. 10 Recording Industry Association of America press release.

One MIT student who has received a letter from the RIAA said last week that he planned not to settle and that he would fight the RIAA’s attempts to learn his identity. To date, no MIT students are known to have gone to court — all have paid the pre-litigation settlement or have settled after the RIAA has sent a subpoena to MIT.

The RIAA identified alleged infringers by looking at their IP addresses. Since the RIAA cannot obtain the names of people connected with the IP addresses without a court order, it instead sent its demand letters directly to MIT and requested that the Institute forward the letters to the community members. MIT complied with the RIAA’s request and has forwarded the letters to the computer users corresponding to those addresses.

These requests come as part of the latest wave of 407 RIAA letters sent to college students from universities across the country this month. The RIAA has sent thousands of such letters in batches since February 2007. This is the third time that the RIAA has sent letters to groups of MIT affiliates: 23 letters were sent in May 2007, and 30 were sent in September 2007.

By asking for settlements in these letters, the RIAA avoids ordering costly subpoenas that force universities to release the identities of alleged infringers and following up on those subpoenas with copyright infringement lawsuits. The letters also, according to the RIAA, “provide students the opportunity to resolve copyright infringement claims against them at a discounted rate before a formal lawsuit is filed.” According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, these early settlement amounts generally range from $3,000 to $5,000.

RIAA spokesperson Liz Kennedy told The Tech in October that, from the May 2007 group of letters, 15 of 22 people contacted paid the pre-litigation settlement, while seven others had their records subpoenaed. Those seven students later settled out of court before a trial. The 23rd IP address to which a letter was sent could not be connected to an individual, Kennedy said.

Kennedy did not respond to numerous requests for comment this week and last week about the outcome of the October letters, and she declined to comment on the group of letters sent most recently.

One student may contest letter

An MIT student who said he received a demand letter contacted The Tech last week and said he plans to decline an early settlement and to fight the RIAA’s subpoena. He requested anonymity because he wants to keep his identity from the RIAA.

The student, who said he was “the victim of a fishing expedition by the RIAA,” said he did not want to settle because settlement would not prevent further legal action by the individual record labels the RIAA represents.

“I’m disappointed that MIT isn’t going to step up,” the student said. Other schools like Boston University and the University of Oregon have resisted RIAA subpoenas of student records more actively than MIT has, he said. Two BU computer science professors, Azer Bestavros and Jesse R. Stengel, gave sworn statements in July 2007 asking the Massachusetts federal district court to quash subpoenas that sought to identify BU community members. The University of Oregon in November 2007 asked the Oregon federal district court to quash a similar subpoena.

The MIT student who received a letter said he would like to challenge the subpoenas by collaborating with other MIT students who have received letters, but he has been unable to find the names of the other recipients because those records are considered confidential by MIT.

In an Oct. 4 statement, Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict and Jerrold M. Grochow ’68, vice president for Information Services & Technology, said, “Unauthorized downloading and sharing of copyrighted files is illegal, contrary to MIT policy, and a serious matter with potentially damaging consequences. MIT strongly discourages such unauthorized downloading and sharing of computer files.”

The statement notes that in addition to pre-litigation notices from the RIAA, students may also receive takedown notices from the Motion Picture Association of America under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act for illegally-downloaded content.

The MIT Internet Services & Technology Web site discusses unauthorized file sharing. The site’s contents, at, include MIT’s most recent statements about the RIAA notices and about music downloading in general.