December 6, 2020

RIAA-Student Lawsuits Settle

The RIAA has settled its lawsuits against four college students, dropping the suits in exchange for a payment of between $12,000 and $17,500 from each student. The settlements did not require the students to admit any wrongdoing.

The students had been accused of direct infringement (for allegedly offering copyrighted files directly from their own computers) and of contributory infringement (for allegedly running search engines that others used to find infringing files).

The RIAA spin appears to be that the students’ decision to settle on these terms indicates that the students expected to lose on the contributory infringement claim. This spin is, to say the least, implausible. Getting out of this lawsuit for $15,000 or so was a great deal for the students, considering the legal expenses involved in going to trial, and the very real possibility that the direct infringement claim alone would have led to a judgment for tens of millions of dollars.

In my view, these lawsuits tell us nothing new about the legal status of the kinds of general-purpose search engines these students were running. The lessons of these suits are simpler: (1) don’t be a direct infringer, and (2) getting sued by the RIAA is expensive.