The Recording Industry Association of America has filed suits against four university students for allegedly sharing copyrighted music over their universities' computer networks.
The universities said they should have been allowed to deal with the situations themselves. Six American university associations urged their member schools to crack down on illegal file sharing five months ago.
The lawsuits, filed in federal courts, charge the students with running an "emporium of music piracy" by illegally offering as many as 1 million songs to other students. Each student faces damages of up to $150,000 for every copyrighted recording shared.
The RIAA said the students' systems were similar to Napster, the online service that was found by a court in 2001 to be infringing copyright.
"The court ruled that Napster was illegal and shut it down," said Cary Sherman, RIAA president. "These systems are just as illegal and operate in just the same manner. And just like Napster, they hurt artists, musicians, songwriters, those who invest in their work and the thousands of others who work to bring music to the public."
Members of a House of Representatives sub-committee have urged university officials to expel or prosecute students engaged in illegal file sharing.