Several schools, such as Pennsylvania State University, have partnered with legal digital music stores to allow students free or discounted music purchases as a deterrent to stealing music online. Schools such as Duke University have gone so far as to give incoming freshmen iPods, Apple Computer Inc.'s popular digital music player.
Songs can be downloaded on Internet2 in 20 seconds, Sherman said, with movies taking less than five minutes. This marks a significant speed advantage over the Web, Sherman said, where it can take one to two minutes to download a song and well over an hour for a movie.
In this round of lawsuits, Sherman said, the RIAA is targeting students at Boston University, Harvard University, Ohio State University, University of Southern California and Michigan State University, among others. He said his group is limiting itself, at least initially, to 25 suits per school. None are in the Washington area.
The average number of music files on defendants' computers is 2,300, Sherman said, with one computer containing as many as 3,900 songs.
The entertainment industry's legal action comes as the Supreme Court considers whether a file-sharing service called Grokster is responsible for the illegal activities of its users. Grokster Ltd. and others say such services are protected by the court's 1984 Betamax decision that ruled that companies that make video recorders are not responsible for potential wrongdoing by consumers using them, as long as the machines have a legitimate purpose.
Sherman acknowledged that his group found files being traded that did not violate copyright law but said many more files appeared to be illegally obtained.
"We didn't see many copies of the Bible or works of Shakespeare," he said.
Washingtonpost.com staff writer Robert MacMillan contributed to this report.