RIAA Settles With Students

College file-traders pay up for digital music trading

The Recording Industry of Association of America settled its lawsuits against four college students accused of running file-sharing networks yesterday. Under the out-of-court agreements, none of the four students will admit guilt, but all will pay settlements valued between $12,000 and $17,000 and discontinue their distribution of copyrighted music.

The suits, filed April 3rd, marked the first time the RIAA had targeted individual file-traders, and initially sought billions of dollars in damages. Daniel Peng, a seventeen-year-old Princeton sophomore, Joe Nievelt, a junior at Michigan Technological University, and Jesse Jordan and Aaron Sherman -- two students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute -- were accused of running services similar to pioneering file-swapping outlet Napster that together made available for download more than 1 million copyrighted songs.

Peng, whose Wake software browsed the Princeton network for shared files and then collected them, was specifically cited for distributing songs by Bruce Springsteen, Blink-182 and U2, among others. About 300 songs were named in the lawsuit against him.

Nievelt, who ran a service called FlatLan, talked to Rolling Stone at the time of the suit. "I really don't have the kind of money they're looking for," he said. "This is kind of a ridiculously big lawsuit. It's been a really big headache so far."

The RIAA didn't, of course, get their billions. But by suing and settling -- even for tens of thousands of dollars -- the industry successfully made examples of the four students and sent an intimidating message to file-sharers around the country. The association's representatives said that since the lawsuits were filed a month ago, as many as eighteen other local file-sharing services had shut down.