Peng '05 sued by recording industry for 'Wake' site
Josh Brodie and Zachary A. Goldfarb
The Recording Industry Association of America sued Dan Peng '05 yesterday for what could be tens of millions of dollars, alleging that he illegally made copyrighted music available for download from his computer and facilitated the transfer of copyrighted music over the network through his website, wake.princeton.edu.
The RIAA also filed suits yesterday against three other college students running similar websites at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Michigan Technological University. The suits mark the first time the RIAA has gone to court against these kinds of sites.
By mid-afternoon yesterday, file-sharing sites on the Princeton network — Wake, Gank, Sleep and pTunes — were down. It is unknown if these sites will ever reappear, though the RIAA has not sued the owners of the other sites, and the University said it did not shut the sites down.
These sites help users search, access and download files located on other computers on the campus network.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the district of New Jersey, asks for a "preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining" Peng's operation of the site and "for maximum statutory damages in the amount of $150,000 with respect to each copyrighted work infringed."
Princeton is not named in the suit, and University lawyer Clayton Marsh '85 said yesterday that he did not expect the University to defend Peng in court. He said his office gave Peng a list of local lawyers yesterday. Officials also said the University had not had word of the suit before Wednesday afternoon.
It is not clear if and when the case will go to court. An RIAA official, who requested not to be named, said the industry trade group is "happy to sit down and have a discussion with [Peng] about how to resolve this."
The official said Peng was targeted because "he was committing massive copyright infringement. There are no magic or secret formulas to how he was chosen."
Though Gank, Sleep and pTunes were only available to users on the campus network, Wake could be accessed from off the campus network.
Several telephone calls to Peng yesterday were not returned.
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, the guiding law in this case, Marsh said the University is just considered a "service provider" and is immune to suit.
"Legally, we are not required to monitor the content of the Internet [that students put up]," he said.
He would not comment on the merits of the suit but said he planned "to be supportive of the student as a member of the community and take this opportunity to better educate students."
The suit mentions warnings by the University in September 2002. A recent meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community also discussed the dangers of online filing sharing.
According to the University's copyright compliance officer in OIT, Rita Saltz, the University ordinarily receives complaints from industry groups and then contacts the appropriate students — who most often immediately cooperate. In the last year, Saltz's office received about 130 complaints, but she said the suit came as a "terrible surprise."
"I had no idea this was coming," she added.
It is unclear whether there will be University disciplinary action.
"We have a process, and we believe it works," Robinson-Brown said. "If someone files a complaint, and something comes to our attention, then we contact the student, and to date students have been cooperative."
She said though the University knew about sites like Wake, University officials didn't know exactly how they worked. Before knowing the details of the suit, she said, the communications office had asked OIT if it could remove a stored version of the Wake page from the Google search engine to protect Peng's identity and prevent people from trying to access the page. OIT told the office it couldn't without going through a complicated procedure and contacting the Google company, she said.
She added that the University did not ask any of the student owners of the file-sharing sites to take them down.
Four entertainment industry groups sent a letter to 2,300 university presidents last year, encouraging them to adopt a tougher stand on copyright law.