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The U.S Naval Academy dolled out a relatively mild punishment to 85 of its midshipmen busted for using government provided internet connections to swap copyrighted music files, The Baltimore Sun reports.

These are the same midshipmen who had their computers seized in a Nov. 21 raid, egged on by a call from the music label-backed Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to crack down on file sharing. Using a zippy T3 line, the midshipmen shuffled music and movie files back and forth, as youngsters are prone to do. For these crimes, the Naval Academy will hand out demerits and extra work assignments along with cutting back on some privileges.

Both the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post (via AP) reflected outrage at the leniency of the punishment. The Post seemed dismayed that the midshipment had failed to receive a public flogging for their crime of sharing music, as they were in "violation of Defense Department policy and federal copyright laws". [our emphasis]

A Naval Academy spokesman told the Sun that the midshipmen "had enormous drives - multigigabite drives - and they were on all the time."

I'll be damned.

Who's the thief?
The Academy's punishment falls far short of the going rate for music theft.

Earlier this month, the RIAA attacked the civilian population by bringing lawsuits against four college students. The Pigopolist is demanding $150,000 per infringed song from these students.

In either case, these attacks against America's youth seem harsh given the music labels' penalties on legitimate CD-buyers.

The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that a long-standing CD price fixing policy developed by the major music labels cost consumers as much as $480 million. The labels managed to charm their way out of any admission to wrong doing by paying 41 suing states $67.4 million in cash and $75.7 million in CDs.

The record labels connived to keep CD prices high as widespread Internet usage and music swapping began to surge.

This push along with a lack of palatable subscription services and a sweeping economic slowdown have no doubt contributed to the shrinking revenue in the music business. Making criminals out of the most voracious music buyers around may further this slide.

In an effort to curb the midshipmen's music consumption, the Naval Academy has decided to cut back on the dormitory bandwidth and install software to restrict file sharing.

Maybe it had better do something about those "multigigabyte drives, which are on all the time", too. ®

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