Not content with wasting universities' resources via their usual tactics--i.e., flooding them with machine-generated complaints about file sharing--the major record labels are now demanding that universities help them shake down students.

The RIAA has asked universities and colleges to forward "pre-lawsuit" letters to alleged filesharers that promise a "discounted" settlement price if the student agrees to pay up immediately. Forwarding the letters saves the RIAA the trouble and expense of filing a lawsuit to obtain students' contact information--a savings that may be redirected to more lawsuits.

To add insult to injury, the letters advise students to contact the RIAA if they have any questions. It's safe to say that the RIAA is unlikely to give students the full picture. For example, will the RIAA tell students that parents are generally not liable for infringements committed by their kids, or that the record labels sometimes sue the wrong people? Probably not.

We think students should seek out less biased sources of information--and their institutions should assist in that process. Toward that end, we've put together a short FAQ to help students learn more about their options; we hope colleges and universities that forward the RIAA's threat letter will take the additional step of directing students to this FAQ as well as other neutral information sources.

Of course, the RIAA should not be putting universities in this perverse position in the first place. If you'd like to help academic institutions get back to their real mission--educating students, not helping to threaten them--Take action now to help stop the lawsuit campaign.

UPDATE: The University of Wisconsin is refusing to forward the pre-litigation letters to its students. Says Brian Rust of UW's IT department: "These settlement letters are an attempt to short circuit the legal process to rely on universities to be their legal agent." We couldn't have said it better ourselves. On Wisconsin! Update to the Update: The University of Maine has decided to folllow suit. UM spokeperson John Diamond: "It's not the university's role to, in effect, serve papers on our students for another party." Go Black Bears!

UPDATE: The University of Nebraska has found a unique way of resisting the RIAA's newest shakedown. Not only will it not pass on most of the letters, the institution is demanding reimbursement for the cost of processing the complaints. Equally notable is the institution's reason for not passing on most of the letters: it can't, because it only retains IP address logs for a month.

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