ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Now a new effort to crack down on some bad behavior on American college campuses. So what is it? Cheating? Hazing? Binge drinking?

LUKE BURBANK, host:

No, Alex, it's illegal download of music. The Recording Industry Association of America says it's losing money to students who are illegally trading music back and forth along the Internet, and they've issued a list of the five schools with the most offenders: Ohio University, North Carolina State, Syracuse, University of Massachusetts and Nebraska.

CHADWICK: Okay, we're number one. The RIAA has sent letters inviting hundreds of guilty students to confess and pay fines online or else face legal action. DAY TO DAY tech contributor Xeni Jardin reports.

XENI JARDIN: Turn yourself in and we'll let you pay us at a discount. That's the message the Recording Industry Association of America gave college students this week. It sent out so-called pre-litigation letters to 400 students it accuses of illegally sharing online music.

In a conference call, Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the RIAA, said this latest move is a response to rampant piracy on university computer networks.

Mr. MITCH BAINWOL (RIAA): Our work with college administrators has yielded real progress and we're grateful for the help of those who work closely with us. Yet our action today reflects the reality that more progress needs to be accomplished. We're looking forward to the day when these lawsuits are no longer necessary.

JARDIN: Bainwol says accused students won't have to go to court if they register themselves voluntarily at P2PLawsuits.com. The RIAA promises to try and reach a settlement with each downloader who confesses on their own instead of suing them for copyright infringement.

Professor JENNIFER URBAN (University of Southern California): I have never seen anything like this before.

JARDIN: Jennifer Urban is a law professor at the University of Southern California and director of the school's intellectual property and law clinic. USC is one of the 13 schools where the RIAA sent letters to students accused of illegal file sharing.

Prof. URBAN: It's essentially a cease and desist letter. It's a letter from a party saying we think that you're doing something illegal and we would like you to stop.

The important thing for the student or other person who receives this letter to understand is that all this is is a letter that is claiming that the student is doing something infringing.

JARDIN: In other words, if you're one of the accused students, Irvin says you may not want to turn yourself in just yet.

Prof. URBAN: They should understand, you know, that it's not necessarily the case that they were infringing, number one, and number two, if the university hasn't turned over their names, then by going to this Web site and registering, they're going to be telling the RIAA who they are and allow for the RIAA to follow up with more actions against them, because they'll then know the identity.

JARDIN: Before now, if the RIAA wanted to discover the name behind a college computer address involved in file sharing, the organization had to either file a lawsuit or convince the university to hand over student identities.

Adam Frucci of the gadgets Web site Gizmodo says that by inviting suspected downloaders to turn themselves in, the RIAA is trying to take advantage of vulnerable students.

Mr. ADAM FRUCCI (Gizmodo): It's pure intimidation. They're going after people who have no knowledge of the law, who don't have the thousands and thousands of dollars to throw at lawyers that these people do, so in effect they're saying, look, we think that you might have been doing something illegal, so give us thousands of dollars or we will run you into the ground.

JARDIN: To protest what Frucci believes are unfair tactics, Gizmodo.com is organizing a month-long RIAA boycott, which begins today. They're urging people not to buy copy-protected music from RIAA-member labels all month long and to instead purchase mp.3s from independent music Web sites.

As for the accused students, the RIAA has given them 20 days to respond.

For NPR News, I'm Xeni Jardin.

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