Online music and movie piracy cost 85 U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen a series of sanctions including demerits, extra work assignments, and loss of privileges and leave. In a much publicized raid last November, academy officials seized almost 100 computers from students suspected of downloading unauthorized copies of songs and films.

The Navy raid came in the wake of a letter sent by the >Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and other trade groups to nearly 2,300 colleges seeking the cooperation of university computer network administrators in a bid to eliminate illegal file-sharing.

The midshipmen sanctioned by the Navy were using the school's T3 Internet line to swap music and movies with some even attaching large-capacity disk drives to their computers. According to naval Academy officials, the students' system was attracting traffic from around the world.

Despite the RIAA warning letter, the Baltimore Sun quoted a Naval Academy official as saying the raid was based more on a threat by the Department of Defense (DoD) to cut funding for the school's T3 connection. The DoD said the file swapping was consuming too much of the school's bandwidth.

"They just said they're not in the business of supporting that kind of thing, and that the Naval Academy would have to start picking up the tab if they were going to let that stuff go," the official, told the Sun.

Since the raid, the Naval Academy has slowed the Internet speeds at the school's dormitory and installed software to block peer-to-peer file-swapping. The Naval Academy was the last of the military schools to take such measures.

Two weeks ago, the RIAA filed lawsuits against the operators of four "Napster-like" internal campus networks that the RIAA claims illegally distribute millions of copyrighted songs. The operators of the networks named in the suits filed by the RIAA make use of software known variously as Flatlan, Phynd or Direct Connect. All of them work much like Napster, centrally indexing and processing search requests for copyrighted works. And they permit users to download any of those works with the single click of a mouse.

The network operators sued by the RIAA for copyright infringement are from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Princeton University, and Michigan Technological University.

"These systems are best described as 'local area Napster networks,'" said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA. "The court ruled that Napster was illegal and shut it down. 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."

Added Sherman, "This is a particularly flagrant way to illegally distribute millions of copyrighted works over the Internet. The people who run these Napster networks know full well what they are doing -- operating a sophisticated network designed to enable widespread music thievery. The lawsuits we've filed represent an appropriate step given the seriousness of the offense."