U of Washington to Help the RIAA Sue Students

Decides to forward copyright infringement notices to students, and tells them they better get a good attorney.

It seems the students of the University of Washington have been sold out by the powers that be as Eric S.Godfrey, Vice Provost for Student Life at the Seattle Campus, has notified the student body that the school plans to forward notices of copyright infringement it has received by the RIAA to the students responsible.

In a message sent out to students yesterday, it informs them that the “…University is unable to provide legal services to students who have violated copyright law through illegal downloading or sharing” and that “If you receive a letter from the RIAA, we encourage you to engage a personal attorney.” Basically, the letter serves notice that you’d better get another part-time job or talk to Mom and Dad because the U of W doesn’t want to tangle with the RIAA’s legal team.

It also warns them them of the text of these “Early Settlement Letters,” in that students have 20 days to settle for the $3,000 to $5,000 USD demanded by the RIAA or that they risk going to trail and having to pay a much more substantial amount.

Now the university will apparently not go so far as to pass on the names of suspected students to the RIAA, but it will use its server to identify them and inform them of their settlement options before they get stuck with a lawsuit, Godfrey said.

He also tries to justify the action by noting that if the U of W didn’t do so, the industry would file a lawsuit against a John Doe or Jane Doe and simply subpoena the university for the person’s identity, thus making any attempts to fight the process a losing battle. But, is it really a losing battle to stand up for the rights of students and demand that the RIAA follow the letter of the law? How is anyone to know if the RIAA’s accusations against each of the suspected students legitimate and whether or not these students even have the means to wage a competent defense against the charges? I guess these thoughts were outweighed by the probable costs to the University of challenging the RIAA and forcing them to use the legal process like the rest of us.

Tyler Dockins, the soon to be student body president, finds the cryptic tone of Godfrey’s e-mail disturbing.

“There’s a lack of details about it,” Dockins said. “Is the policy retroactive? Is it something that will be enforced from this point on? There’s really no information about it, and that’s really, really awful.”

Jenny Gawf, a sophomore at the University of Washington, said most of the file-sharing on campus involves just residents of a particular dormitory using the UW Internet Network.

“It’s really no different than me burning a CD and running it down the hallway,” said Gawf, who lived in a UW dorm last year. “It’s not like I’m downloading things from some weirdo in Iowa.”

It seems as though it may not matter because the RIAA has already unleashed the hounds and the U of W has now opened the gates to let them in. I just hope that the students are able to afford the settlement fees because it would be a shame if Godfrey had to live with the fact that he helped end the continued education of some students because they grabbed the new Jay-Z album/. Society and the school as well should find this outcome wholly unacceptable.