A lot of people have been trying to figure out why the RIAA decided to bring an infringement suit against four college students for hundreds of billions of dollars. Clearly, a suit worth 10 or 20 times the recording industry's gross annual income won't actually be paid off.
What's more, the universities have procedures in place for dealing with cases of infringement. If the studios believe that a student is breaking the law, they can send a DMCA notice (something that they have highly automated, so that they can send out thousands at a time) to the university and the university will take down the offending material.
It's clear to me that the reason for going after these students is to intimidate anyone who runs campus-net search tools. Most American colleges had campus-net search-engines (that students used for lots of purposes, including research, sharing free software, and exchanging other legitimate info) before this action; now they don't.
But the RIAA's actions did more than intimidate students. By ignoring procedure, they've declared war on American universities. And college adminstrators, who can never have been very comfortable with acting as the recording industry's cops, are wondering why the hell they've been bending over backwards to assist the RIAA.
The President of Michigan Technological University is steaming mad, and has written an open letter to the RIAA:
You have obviously known about this situation with Joe Nievelt for quite some time. Had you followed the previous methods established in notification of a violation, we would have shut off the student and not allowed the problem to grow to the size and scope that it is today. I am very disappointed that the RIAA decided to take this action in this manner. As a fully cooperating site, we would have expected the courtesy of being notified early and allowing us to take action following established procedures, instead of allowing it to get to the point of lawsuits and publicity.
It has been stated by your office that this is "a bump in the road" between the RIAA and Michigan Tech, and that we will move on from here. It is unfortunate that you choose to trivialize the problem in this manner. It is not a bump in the road for Joe Nievelt or Michigan Technological University.