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Students, if you live on campus, and you use a computer, be prepared for this letter, which will read in part:

"We represent a number of large record companies...[and] have gathered evidence that you have been infringing copyrights owned by the Record Companies..."

"We are sending this letter to you in advance of filing suit... to give you the opportunity in advance of filing suit... to settle these claims as early as possible..."

"If you are interested in resolving this matter now, please contact our Settlement Information Line at... or, alternatively, you may settle this matter immediately online... using the CASE ID# that appears at the top of this letter..."

"In deciding whether you wish to settle this should consider: The Copyright Act imposes a range of statutory damages for copyright infringement. The minimum damage is $750 each..."


Sued in federal court? You'll have to get a lawyer and God knows how much that will cost and you're moving to New York next fall and you'll have to come back to Philadelphia for court and...

You better settle, even if it wasn't you who downloaded Sonny and Cher's Greatest Hits. You can't fight the RIAA, they're huge. You'd lose and you'd be in debt for the rest of your life. Don't be stupid, just settle. You can do it online with a credit card...

The RIAA will send this letter to you care of your IP address, care of Penn. They won't send it to you because they don't know who you are, and it would be a legal hassle to find out. Instead, they're hoping Penn will forward the letter to you, gratis, and you will settle.

It's a cheap way to accomplish a big two-fold goal for the record companies - recoup lost profits and prevent future losses. It's a good idea, since all they're spending is 39 cents on a stamp.

"It's interesting lawyering," said attorney Robert Tintner. "The [law firm] is trying to cut their losses and resolve claims."

In summary, they want to:

1) Get money from some students - students who are too ignorant to seek legal advice.

2) Settle on a compromised figure with students who do seek legal advice but who don't have the stomach, the time or the money to fight.

3) Frighten the millions of other students who think they won't get caught downloading.

However, they're relying on universities to do their work.

The RIAA has already sent 805 of the settlement letters to 35 schools nationwide, including the University of Michigan, Columbia University and our neighbor to the north, Drexel.

Giving in to the RIAA's request, most schools have forwarded the letters.

However, the University of Wisconsin refused. Brent Rust, UW's IT communications manager, told the student newspaper, The Badger Herald, that "these settlement letters are an attempt to short circuit the legal process [and] rely on universities to be their legal agent."

"We're not legally bound [to forward the letters]," elaborated Meg McCall, spokesperson for UW's IT division. "This is an issue between the RIAA and any alleged offenders, and we think they're capable of following up on this directly."

Penn has not received any letters, but "our current thinking, from the Office of General Counsel, is that we would in fact distribute the letters," said Robin Beck, vice president of Information Systems and Computing. She immediately continued "however, we have not received any of the letters. We will look at what the actual letter says and make a final decision at that time."

It's true that we haven't received the letters, but, according to a recent DP article, Penn has "received requests from the RIAA to preserve records for specific IP addresses - meaning pre-litigation letters threatening lawsuits against students could be imminent."

The article goes on to quote an RIAA official stating that they plan to send 1,000 letters by the end of the month.

Ms. Beck, these letters are designed to frighten and bully students, students who may not know their rights or the natural strength of their defense. They were made to extract maximum profit with the least investment. If you get them, do not distribute these letters.

Work for Penn students, not for the RIAA.

Alex Weinstein is a College senior from Bridgeport, W.Va. His e-mail address is Straight to Hell appears on Thursdays.

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