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Archive for Wednesday, April 4, 2007

University wants money for locating suspected music pirates

April 4, 2007

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— The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has billed a recording industry group $150 as partial compensation for time spent identifying suspected music pirates, a school spokeswoman said.

The Recording Industry Association of America has sent two rounds of letters offering piracy settlements to students and others at some U.S. universities. The schools, which included UNL, were asked to identify and pass the letters onto the users.

University spokeswoman Kelly Bartling said staff calculated the amount of time spent processing each request and put a dollar figure on it - $150 for all the letters in the first round.

She said Tuesday that the university has gotten no response from the association.

"It is neither practical nor appropriate for us to entertain a reimbursement request," the association said Tuesday in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Spokesman Jonathan Lamy couldn't say whether UNL's request was received.

The letters offering discounted settlements to 400 computer users at 13 universities were sent in late February. Another batch, to 405 users at 23 universities, was sent out a month later.

UNL was the only school whose users - 61 in all - were targeted in both the first and second rounds of letters.

Bartling said staff members have been able to match 32 IP addresses with users. The university was having problems identifying the others because the computer usage records are only stored for 31 days.

Other schools keep computer records longer and have not had problems complying with the association's requests, Lamy has said.

The compensation request UNL sent to the association did not account for letters processed in the second round. Bartling said she didn't know whether the university would respond to any more letters without being compensated.

Other universities

The association said it understands universities may have to spend their own money as part of the association's settlement program, but these costs can be reduced by taking steps to curb music piracy.

Offering a legal online music service and educating students on appropriate use of school computers and the value of intellectual property were some of the suggestions.

Last fall, UNL began a public relations campaign in which students were advised the practice was illegal and could lead to university disciplinary action.

Purdue University, which received 38 letters in the second wave, has not decided whether it too would seek money from the association, said spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg.

She said staff spend four to five hours searching for the person associated with an IP address identified by the association. A professional could charge $40 to $50 an hour for such work Norberg said.

So far, she said, Purdue has identified the names of 37 people - students, but also others registered to use the university's computer system - from the 38 IP addresses.

North Dakota State University hasn't tabulated the cost to handle the 20 letters it got, according to spokesman David Wahlberg. But, he said, the administration doesn't plan to seek reimbursement.

Ten of the 20 addresses identified in association letters to North Dakota State have been tracked to students at the main campus, Wahlberg said. The other IP addresses were from other campuses in the university system and were forwarded to staff at those locations, he said.

Ongoing piracy crackdown

The letters to universities are part of the association's ongoing copyright crackdown. The association has sued about 18,000 computer users nationwide since September 2003, including about 1,000 university students.

The lawsuits were initially filed against "John Doe" defendants, based on their Internet addresses. Many are accused of downloading music over university Internet services.

After filing a lawsuit, recording industry lawyers work through the courts to learn the name of the defendant.

In the association's latest effort, colleges are given letters to forward to students suspected of music piracy. Students are urged to contact the association to broker a settlement before a lawsuit is filed.

The association plans to expand the settlement program to commercial service providers.

Lamy said Tuesday that, nationally, 116 students have agreed to settlements so far.

The association has declined requests to provide specific details about the settlements.

Tom Keefe, who works in Student Legal Services at UNL and has handled some of the letters, said students can typically settle within 20 days of notification for a $3,000 fee. After that, he said, the offer jumps to $4,000.

He said some UNL students have settled with the association.

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