The Washington-based Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group for the largest labels, said it will file federal copyright lawsuits Wednesday against 405 students at 18 colleges with access to the Internet2 network, which boasts speeds hundreds of times faster than the Internet.
Researchers at Internet2 once demonstrated they can download a DVD-quality copy of the popular movie "The Matrix" in 30 seconds over their network, a feat they said would take roughly 25 hours over the Internet.
Internet2 is used by several million university students, researchers and professionals around the world but is generally inaccessible to the public.
"We don't condone or support illegal file-sharing," said Internet2's chief executive, Doug Van Houweling. "We've always understood that just like there is a lot of file-sharing going on on the public Internet, there's also some file-sharing going on on Internet2."
The recording industry said some students were illegally sharing across Internet2 as many as 13,600 music files - far more than most Internet users - and that the average number of songs offered illegally by the students was 2,300 each. It said it found evidence of more illegal file-sharing at 140 more schools in 41 states and sent warning letters to university presidents.
"We cannot let this high-speed network become a zone of lawlessness where the normal rules don't apply," said Cary Sherman, president of the recording association.
The Motion Picture Association of America also was expected to file federal copyright lawsuits Wednesday against college students with access to Internet2.
"The high performance of Internet2 makes it attractive for a lot of applications, not just file-sharing," Van Houweling said. He cautioned universities against filtering data to block illegal activity in ways that would slow the research network's performance.
"It's possible to attack this problem in ways that do compromise the performance," he said.
The lawsuits illustrate the aggressiveness of the entertainment industry to stifle piracy even on up-and-coming technologies, as it continues to individually sue thousands of computer users accused of sharing copyrighted songs and films over the public Internet.
The recording industry said the lawsuits also pierce the perception by Internet2 researchers that they operated in a closed environment that entertainment groups couldn't monitor.
"We are putting students and administrators everywhere on notice that there are consequences for unlawful uses of this special network," Sherman said.
The RIAA declined to explain how it could detect piracy over Internet2 except to say it acted lawfully. Internet2's corporate members include Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc., a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., a leading music label. Even Internet2 officials said they were unaware how the entertainment companies traced the purportedly illegal activity on their network.
"They haven't shared with us," Van Houweling said. "We have provided no special access to any of those organizations that would enable them in some non-standard way to gain access to this information."
The RIAA said the 18 schools include Boston University, Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, Drexel University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, New York University, Ohio State University, Princeton University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of California-Berkeley, University of California-San Diego, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Southern California.