RIAA sues students over campus file-swapping networks

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has sued four university students who allegedly ran file-sharing networks on their school's local networks.

The students, two at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and one each at Princeton University and Michigan Technological University, operated "local area Napster networks," the RIAA said in a statement Thursday. File-swapping pioneer Napster was shut down by the entertainment industry two years ago.

The RIAA had previously identified campuses as a hotbed of music piracy, but the lawsuits are the first the organization has filed against students. Before, the RIAA's legal fire was aimed mostly at companies offering file-swapping software such as Kazaa and Morpheus.

According to the RIAA, the students operated Napster-like networks "designed to enable widespread music thievery." The students allegedly used software called Flatlan, Phynd and Direct Connect to index files on the campus network and process search requests, according to the RIAA.

In addition to setting up the networks, the RIAA accuses the students of making available hundreds, in some cases thousands, of copyright protected works on the networks.

The answer to file sharing is not lawsuits, but making file sharing legal while artists get paid, Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said in a comment posted on the civil liberty organization's Web site. The lawsuits are an example of how the music industry is treating music fans like criminals, Lohmann said in the statement.

Napster indexed files and facilitated searches and downloads. The campus file swapping networks are different, because access is available on campus only, not to all Internet users. Last year, the RIAA sent a letter to 2,300 college presidents, urging the schools to tell their students to respect copyrights when using the universities' networks.

The industry is stepping up its antipiracy campaign in going after the biggest individual file sharers. In January a federal judge ordered Verizon Internet Services to turn over the name of an individual music downloader to the RIAA. That ruling is being appealed.

The RIAA and other entertainment industry organizations have been battling online piracy in court for years. They compare online sharing of copyright protected music, movies and software to shoplifting.