The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) aims to squash any college student with visions of downloading music illegally, but its heavy-handed approach to protecting the music industry encroaches on the rights of these students.

In an effort to streamline the litigation process for copyright infringement cases, the RIAA sent out 17 “pre-lawsuit” letters to UC Santa Cruz students who were caught illegally trafficking music. The RIAA claims that it is doing students a favor–while civil suits for copyright infringement typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, students can usually settle for a fine under $5000.

In the face of rising tuition costs and dwindling financial aid, students have been put in a predicament: either go to court and risk a debilitating fine or waive the right to trial and still pay thousands. And for what? Listening to a few songs from their favorite artists?

To justify its focus on college students, the RIAA cites a survey by market research company Student Monitor. The survey says more than half of college students download music illegally. Since students lack a disposable income, they cannot afford proper legal protection through a civil suit. The current letters from the RIAA aim to make an example out of several vulnerable college students for a crime that is committed by many nationwide.

The very same Student Monitor survey also said 75 percent of students are in favor of the practice of illegally downloading music. In light of this support, the RIAA only discourages students from buying CD’s, for paying for music means funding the RIAA.

Rather than focusing on punishment and making an example of students who break the law, the RIAA should compromise and make it easier to download music legitimately. Removing restrictions like Digital Rights Management, which limits the number of computers on which a person could access a legitimately downloaded song, would be a start. Giving free music among up-and-coming artists would also be a reasonable alternative.

It is easy for the RIAA to track illegal downloading on campuses, because all users on UC campus networks have similar IP addresses. This points a red flag to the addresses that download the most. But the university has the responsibility to protect its students by not disclosing individual users. While colleges should aim to stop illegal downloading internally, they should not throw students to those musical sharks. Campus administrators and UC Regents have a responsibility to look out for the interests of students first and foremost.

And besides, the recording industry should be putting their efforts into embracing the new technology rather than clinging to a dying system. It is hard to feel sympathy for the music industry monolith that is notorious for abusing the artists on their labels and drastically overcharging consumers for goods that should be practically free in the digital realm.

In an era when our personal and online privacy is so quickly betrayed (think NSA wiretaps) this error becomes inexcusable. It is all too easy for the Regents to cave to the pressures of corporate America, but the Regents must remember that they are in office to serve the students. And students are left shaking in their boots over the follow-up question: what’s to stop the UC from giving up more private information? In the end it seems the UC has betrayed itself as a University for Corporations, and not an institution grounded around the students.