To: CSU Presidents Date: September 3, 2003
From: Christine Helwick Phone: 562/951-4500
General Counsel Fax: 562/951-4956
The Recording Industry Association of America has begun an effort to subpoena information about individuals who are believed to have engaged in unauthorized peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing of copyrighted music and other works. Several universities have been served with subpoenas. While the RIAA message was muted somewhat recently by statements in Congress that it intends only to go after major copyright violators, the risk to university students is clear. Multi million dollar lawsuits have already been filed against four individual university network users. It is only a matter of time before CSU and/or its students are confronted with an RIAA subpoena. If your campus receives a subpoena from RIAA for information about students (or others) who may have engaged in unauthorized P2P file sharing, please contact your University Counsel.
It is important that CSU students know of their responsibilities and rights in this area, and the potential liability for wrongful P2P copyright violations. P2P file sharing and the enabling software are not per se illegal and there are numerous applications where the sharing of data is permissible. Unauthorized downloading and uploading of copyrighted music and movies, however, constitutes an illegal copyright infringement. Ignorance of law is not an excuse, nor is the explanation that “Everybody else is doing it”. The RIAA claims the industry loses $4.2 billion per year to piracy. For further information on the RIAA and its work to reduce infringement, see: www.riaa.com.
The penalty for copyright infringement, both monetary damages and in some cases criminal liability is significant. Damages can range from $200 per infringement for an “innocent” violation to $150,000 per infringement for a willful violation. Courts have additional discretion to award costs and attorney fees. Copyright infringement in some instances is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. A Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities has prepared a White Paper with much technical information about copyright law and potential liability for students engaged in P2P file sharing. The paper is available at: http://acenet.edu/washington/legalupdate/2003/P2P.pdf (Adobe Acrobat Reader required).
September 3, 2003
CSU students should be made aware of the impropriety of copyright infringement and the possibility of civil and criminal penalties. A sample notice set forth below should be placed in some location where students are likely to see it:
Students should be aware that the unauthorized sharing of peer-to-peer file copyrighted works, including music, pictures, and movies, is a violation of campus computer use policy. It is also illegal and may carry significant money and/or criminal sanctions. It is the responsibility of students who are downloading or uploading documents to make certain that they are not copyrighted works, or that the student has the permission of the copyright holder.
The RIAA has not asserted that institutions have any liability for the misbehavior of their students, and there is none. If you receive notice from a copyright holder of suspected illegal infringement on your campus server, it should be handled under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to take advantage of the “safe harbor” provisions in that Act. If you have questions about an appropriate response, please contact your University Counsel.
cc: Chancellor Charles B. Reed
Chancellor’s Executive Staff
 It has been widely reported that two such subpoenas were recently quashed, but only because they were issued in the wrong jurisdiction.