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Piracy, Lawsuits, and Settlements


Like most universities, Brandeis has become involved in the controversy over file sharing. Copyright infringement explicitly violates the Brandeis Computer Use Policy, and LTS actively promotes awareness about copyright law and legal alternatives to unauthorized file sharing. Brandeis community members who infringe copyrights may be targets of internal disciplinary action and/or legal action by a third party. This page explains how and why these actions occur.

What is the RIAA / MPAA?

RIAA stands for the Recording Industry Association of America. The RIAA is the trade group that represents the US recording industry. MPAA stands for Motion Picture Association of America. It is the movie industry equivalent of the RIAA.

What are "cease and desist" letters?

Copyright owners including the RIAA, the MPAA, HBO, and Paramount sometimes send letters to universities claiming that a computer connected to our network is infringing on their copyrights. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) passed in 1998, Brandeis University is legally required to disconnect these computers from the Internet until their owners tell us that they have removed the infringing files.

"Cease and desist" letters mention an IP address, which is a unique number that identifies a computer on the Internet. Brandeis University attempts to match the IP address to a person, whom we inform about the letter. The company that sends the letters does not know who owns the IP address, and Brandeis University does not tell them.

On the third "cease and desist" letter a computer belonging to the same person, LTS refers the case to the Department of Student Rights and Community Standards.  Cease and desist" letters do not involve legal action, although it is possible to receive both a "cease and desist" and a "pre-settlement" letter for the same incident.

What are RIAA "pre-settlement" letters?

In March 2007, the RIAA began sending universities a new kind of letter in addition to the usual "cease and desist" letters. These letters also identify an IP address, but threaten to sue the person whose computer matches that address unless he or she pays a certain amount of money. Brandeis receives far fewer "pre-settlement" letters than "cease and desist" letters.

The RIAA does not know who is responsible for the IP addresses in question, so they ask the university to match the IP addresses to their owners and then forward the letters to those people. Although the university is not legally required to forward the letters, the RIAA threatens to sue people who do not pay, so the university chooses to forward the letters to enable students to make an informed decision. If the RIAA does sue those people, the university may then be required to tell the RIAA who the people are. Brandeis University and most other schools choose to forward the letters. A few schools, like The University of Wisconsin at Madison and The University of Maine, do not.

You can look at a sample "pre-settlement" letter on the Educause web site.

How does the RIAA find out who owns an IP address?

The RIAA works through the court system to serve the university with a subpoena. The subpoena requires the university to identify the owner of the computer that was using an IP address at a particular time. By law, universities must respond to subpoenas.

Why do people get "cease and desist" or "pre-settlement" letters?

Copyright holders send these letters at their own discretion and without explaining their reasoning. The only way to avoid getting these letters is never to share or offer to share infringing files.

For example, all of the following scenarios are possible:

  • A person shares infringing files many times and never receives either kind of letter
  • A person receives several "cease and desist" letters, but never receives a "pre-settlement" letter
  • A person receives a "pre-settlement" letter for a single brief incident of file sharing
  • A person receives both kinds of letter for the same incident of file sharing

The following measures are not sufficient to avoid legal and/or disciplinary action:

  • Only sharing files rarely
  • Only sharing a few files
  • Only downloading, never uploading
  • Sharing files until you get a warning

What should someone do who receives a "pre-settlement" letter?

Brandeis University is a third party and therefore cannot recommend any legal advice. We do suggest that those who receive a letter talk to a parent or trusted advisor, and consider seeking independent legal advice. Ultimately, affected students will need to seek independent legal assistance, if they so choose.

What happened to the people who received the "pre-settlement" letters?

These settlements tend to be private and not disclosed to the University. Anecdotal reports suggest that the majority of students have settled with the RIAA out of court for approximately $3,000 to $7,000 each.

Are people who receive "pre-settlement" letters in trouble with Brandeis University?

For purposes of internal discipline, Brandeis University treats "pre-settlement" letters the same way as "cease and desist" letters. On the third letter of either kind, LTS refers the case to the Division of Student Affairs' Office of Student Development and Conduct.

Where can I get more information?


Brandeis University:

Other resources:

Regardless of any information you may read and follow in this or any other article, you are ultimately responsible for unauthorized file sharing and copyright violations that may result from having file sharing of any type enabled on your computer.

Much of the content on this page was borrowed or adapted with permission from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.