Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

The University of Washington has joined forces with THE music INDUSTRY to hunt down and prosecute students downloading music through not-so-corporate channels.  In an effort to bring justice to those disrespected major label artists who are so obviously losing sales because folks NEED to have an MP3 of "Enter Sandman" asap, UW is helping "shake down students" who take part in the scandalous and dangerous music downloading epidemic.

As reported in the Seattle PI:

Bowing to recording industry demands, University of Washington officials have agreed to help shake down students accused of illegally downloading music.

The university said this week that it will forward demands from the Recording Industry Association of America, making it easier for the industry group to recover thousands of dollars from UW students. Without the UW's cooperation, the recording association would need to obtain a court order to do that. But the university will not voluntarily hand over identifying information about students to the industry group.

Calling the policy "disheartening," incoming UW Associated Students President Tyler Dockins said the settlement amounts that the recording association has demanded elsewhere — usually around $5,000 — would push many students out of school.

"It can drastically affect a student's life," Dockins said.

Defending the decision, made earlier this year by a staff-student panel, Eric Godfrey the UW's vice provost for student life, said the university wants to ensure that students targeted by the industry group have all options open to them.

"We're simply sharing information that we've received," Godfrey said "We're making no judgment to the validity of those claims."

On its members' behalf, the association sends letters to suspected downloaders, sometimes threatening $30,000 in penalties for each illegally downloaded file. A Seattle P-I analysis showed that the average total settlement paid by Western Washington residents accused of stealing music was $4,924 in 2006.

Since 2003, the four major players in the recording industry — EMI Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group — have threatened lawsuits against at least 20,000 Americans, according to industry statistics.

"It's about sending the right message and hopefully encouraging fans to turn to legal forms of music," recording association spokesman Jonathan Lamy said.

In an e-mail to students sent late Monday, Godfrey, the vice provost, told them that the recording association will offer to settle copyright-infringement claims with students for $3,000 to $5,000, or possibly more.

If the students opt not to settle, the recording association could seek a court order compelling the UW to divulge the student's personal information.

Lory Lybeck, a Mercer Island lawyer who has several clients accused of copyright infringement, criticized the UW decision to pass the settlement demands on to students.

"The UW should know that (the industry group's) tactics are so inappropriate and their information is so flawed," Lybeck said. "They should at least investigate the claims before they just roll over and pass these letters on."

Because most people targeted by the recording association can't afford a court fight, the industry's claims too often go unchallenged, he said.

Lybeck said the settlements and penalties requested by the association members aren't tied to any concrete damage claim. Instead, he said, the lawsuits are a scare tactic.