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Industry group says piracy students are settling

/ Source: The Associated Press

A recording industry group that has been offering settlements to college students suspected of sharing music online says more than a quarter of the alleged music pirates have accepted the offer.

The Recording Industry Association of America sent letters offering discounted settlements to 400 computer users at 13 universities in late February. Another batch was sent out this week.

Association spokesman Jonathan Lamy said Friday that, so far, 116 settlements were reached after the first round of letters went out.

Those letters targeted students at Arizona State University; Marshall University; North Carolina State University; North Dakota State University; Northern Illinois University; Ohio University; Syracuse University; University of Massachusetts, Amherst; University of Nebraska- Lincoln; University of South Florida; University of Southern California; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and University of Texas, Austin.

Lamy would not specify which of the schools the 116 students attend.

As part of its ongoing copyright crackdown, the association has sued about 18,000 computer users nationwide since September 2003. The figure includes 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 to curb music piracy, colleges are given letters to forward to students suspected of music piracy, Lamy said. Students are urged to contact the association to broker a settlement before a lawsuit is filed.

"Part of the rationale for this new program is to offer students a chance to settle early and with no public mark on their record," he said.

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

A letter to one Ohio University student told her that she distributed 787 audio files, putting her total minimum potential liability at more than $590,000. The minimum damages under the law is $750 for each copyright recording that had been shared, the letter said.

Patrick McGee, an attorney Ohio University arranged to meet with its students, has said $3,000 is the standard settlement offer, though cases have settled for as much as $5,000.

The second wave of letters the association sent out Wednesday targeted 405 students at 23 colleges. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln was the only school whose students — 61 in all — were targeted in both rounds of letters.

UNL spokeswoman Kelly Bartling said the university was having problems identifying some of the targeted students because the university only stores computer usage records for 31 days.

Thirteen of the 36 students sent letters in February have been identified, she said, and 19 of the 25 sent letters this week were.

Bartling said Friday that the students were being referred to the university's student legal services for advice, but she didn't know how many have accepted a settlement.

Lamy said UNL's records-keeping policy is an anomaly among universities the association is dealing with.

"Reasonable data retention policies are essential," he said. "Lawsuits for music theft are just one example, but there are a host of other crimes regularly perpetrated on computer networks.

"As services providers, one would think universities would understand the need to retain these records."

The university isn't planning to change the records policy, UNL network security analyst Zac Reimer said earlier this week. That's partly because the association probably will begin asking for names in the same months the file-sharing occurred, he said.

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

The school has a three strikes policy: First, a notice to music pirates they are violating university policy, then loss of Internet access, and finally, a visit to the school's disciplinary board.