The recent warning from Universal Studios regarding illegal movies on the Lawrence computer network is by no meansan isolated incident. Colleges across the country have been facing the issue of file sharing technology and its implications regarding copyright laws. Last October, several higher education organizations issued a statement asking that all colleges and universities take steps to reduce the number of illegal movie and music files that students download. The Motion Picture Associating of America and the Recording Industry Association of America have also drafted similar statements.
Now the movie and music industries are taking direct action to stem the tide, including threatening legal action.
Lawrence is also not alone in being a small college facing these issues.
Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas was recently threatened with legal action by AOL-Time Warner, due to a student’s downloading of a movie produced by the company. A Sterling faculty member described the company’s action as “using an elephant gun to kill a fly.” AOL-Time Warner forced the student clean his hard drive of the illegally downloaded movie. The student was also made to send out a letter to the entire school apologizing for his actions.
On April 3rd, the Recording Industry Association of America filed four lawsuits in three states. The cases were brought against students at colleges in New York, New Jersey, and Michigan. One student at Princeton University, one student at Michigan Technological University, and two students at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute were named in lawsuits.
It should be noted that in the RIAA lawsuits, just the students, not the schools, were named as defendants. In all the cases, RIAA alleges that the students were using their schools networks to distribute songs on the Internet.
While the large companies have won many of the cases in the past, some recent cases indicate that they will not win all of the cases.
In particular the case of Jon Johansen, a Norwegian teenager known as DVD Jon, indicates that large companies will not automatically win all cases.
Johansen broke the code on a DVD he had purchased so he could watch it on a computer running Linux. Norwegian courts ruled that he had not broken copyright laws because he was not attempting to pirate the movie for distribution. The case is currently under review for possible appeal.