RIAA Targets File-Sharing in the Workplace

By CIO Update Staff

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Just weeks after training its anti-piracy guns on universities nationwide, the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) war against the file-sharing networks has spread to Fortune 500 companies.

Attorneys for the RIAA have sent a letter to about 300 U.S. companies, warning they could face "significant legal damages" because their networks were being used to "illegally distribute copyrighted music on the Internet."

The letter was sent out along with a complete package detailing specific alleged piracy activities. Part of the detailed packet sent to specific companies includes the computer location of the offending material with its Internet Protocol (IP) address and a list of the works illegally offered.

A spokesperson for the RIAA declined to identify the companies that received the unprecedented warning. Approximately 20 percent of the companies were in in the medical-related field, 20 percent in manufacturing and 35 percent to technology firms. The rest went to corporations in a variety of unrelated sectors.

In the letter, signed by RIAA president Cary Sherman, the RIAA said investigations found that IP addresses assigned to the targeted companies were used to log onto the FastTrack network (the online peer-to-peer network that hosts KaZaA, Grokster and iMesh) to offer up copyrighted sound recordings for others to download for free.

"Obviously, such infringing conduct must stop. These acts of infringement could expose your employees and your company to significant legal damages. Indeed, federal copyright law imposes stiff penalties for acts of infringement," Sherman warned. The RIAA VP said copyright owners can collect statutory damages of up to $150,000 per copyrighted work infringed as well as legal costs and attorneys' fees, making it clear damages can also include all of the profits earned by an infringer plus the actual damages suffered by the copyright owner.

"In addition, infringers risk relinquishment of any equipment used in manufacturing the infringing copies. The consequences for not taking action, therefore, can be quite serious," he admonished.

It is not the first time the RIAA has targeted network administrators to help with the battle against illegal file-sharing. In January, the association sent a letter to college administrators seeking the co-operation of sysadmins to eliminate the peer-to-peer networks from campuses.

The latest tactic to put the onus on the network admins has been roundly criticized in some quarters for forcing the grunt work of policing against copyright infringement on the private administrators.

Despite those criticisms, the RIAA is pressing ahead and sources say the internal investigations could lead to more letters and warning being dispatched in coming weeks. The association has also enclosed sample user logs showing lists of infringing music files made available on FastTrack by specific employees. "We also attach a CD-ROM containing the entire log of files offered by that employee. Note that this information reflects information we found based on a very limited search and could well indicate that this activity is widespread on your network," Sherman noted.

He told the companies that the problem of online copyright infringement in the workplace extends beyond legal liability. "As we highlighted in a recent letter and corporate policy guide to the CEOs of the Fortune 1000, the dangers of permitting music piracy in the corporate environment can also include security risks to the network," he said.

The association cautioned that the disclosure of sensitive corporate information to third parties, importation of viruses, increased bandwidth costs, slowed Internet connections are all harmful side effects of allowing file-sharing at workplaces.

"We encourage you to adopt and fully implement employee policies and technical measures that prevent copyright infringement on your corporate network, as we will continue to monitor for infringing conduct and take any appropriate legal action necessary to protect our rights."

The RIAA claims an estimated 2.6 billion illegal downloads of copyrighted works occur each month, some at workplaces in the U.S. "Because of high-speed connections and huge bandwidth, corporate computer networks are tempting and fertile ground for employees who illegally trade music using an unauthorized peer-to-peer network," the trade group said.