BANGOR, Maine — A federal judge has sided with the record industry and thrown out efforts by students in the University of Maine System to fend off lawsuits filed last year alleging that they illegally downloaded music onto their computers over UMS peer-to-peer networks.
In September, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock considered a flurry of motions filed by third-year law students from the University of Maine School of Law seeking dismissal of the case. In his 34-page ruling, issued last Wednesday, Woodcock rejected arguments that the way the lawsuit was filed violated federal court rules of procedure.
The school’s law clinic, under the supervision of professor Deirdre Smith, is defending two college students sued last year in U.S. District Court in Bangor. Robert Mittel of Portland represents seven of the defendants. None of the defendants’ names have been made public.
A court order demanding that UMS reveal the names of students associated with specific Internet addresses has been on hold awaiting Woodcock’s decision. It most likely will be served before the end of the year.
John Diamond, UMS spokesman, said Monday that it would comply with a court order to release the names but would not provide the names of students without one.
Five years ago, the recording industry launched a litigation campaign against file sharing, claiming that it is losing billions of dollars to illegal downloading of copyrighted music. In early 2007, it targeted college students, claiming that much of the activity takes place on campuses.
The Recording Industry Association of America — the trade group that represents music companies such as Arista Records, Capitol Records, Warner Bros. and Sony — filed its first lawsuit against a student in Maine on Dec. 12, 2006. In all, more than 100 Maine residents have been accused of illegally sharing copyrighted music.
Many universities, including those that are part of UMS, have their own networks and, as such, act as Internet service providers. The RIAA has sent thousand of notification letters with settlement offers to university officials that have been forwarded to students without the alleged violators’ names being turned over to the RIAA.
Since the litigation began, more than 28,000 lawsuits have been filed against individual file sharers, according to a Bangor Daily News story published in September. In addition, more than 6,000 letters have been sent to university administrators, asking them to forward offers of prelitigation settlements to the students who used university networks to illegally download music.
When students don’t settle within an allotted period, the industry files “John Doe” lawsuits seeking subpoenas to force colleges and universities to release their names. People who are found to have shared illegally copyrighted materials face fines of $750 per song and can be ordered to pay lawyers’ fees.
A majority of students have chosen to settle. Most settlements range between $3,000 and $5,000, an amount that most often is less than the $750 per song fine.
Smith said Friday that she would have to meet with her clients to determine whether to appeal the case to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. As of late Monday, a notice of appeal had not been filed.
On Monday, Mittel said that he would consult with his clients about their options, including whether to appeal the case.