The suits, to be filed Wednesday, are the first to focus on the next-generation research network operated by universities. The i2Hub file-swapping service has operated for a year on campuses that are connected to Internet2.
Recording industry executives said i2Hub had become a serious problem over time as students believed they could not be observed trading files.
"i2Hub has been seen as a safe haven, and what we wanted to do was puncture that misconception," said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA. "This has been a subversion of the research purposes for which Internet2 was developed."
The suits mark a substantial expansion of the record labels' approach to universities, which have been a core location of the file-swapping population since the emergence of Napster in early 1999.
The RIAA has already sued the operators of university-based file-swapping networks on three campuses, and has consistently highlighted lawsuits at colleges as part of its larger campaign against music traders.
Record labels also have given discounts to authorized services such as Napster, RealNetworks' Rhapsody, Cdigix and Ruckus to offer cheap, legal music subscriptions on campus, hoping to attract students away from peer-to-peer networks.
i2Hub is operated by a company started by former University of Massachusetts student Wayne Chang. The company has taken advantage of a feature at universities that lets student transmissions--e-mail, Web surfing or peer to peer--default to Internet2 if both sides of a connection were connected to that network. Thus, two students at Internet2 universities who wanted to trade files would automatically see their traffic flow over the fast network, instead of the ordinary Internet.
That has meant that songs and videos could be downloaded extraordinarily quickly--just minutes for a full-length movie, and 20 seconds for an average song, assuming perfect conditions.
In a statement following news of the lawsuits, the company said, "The i2Hub Organization (i2Hub) does not condone activities and actions that breach the rights of copyright owners."
The RIAA said its suits will be filed against no more than 25 students at each of the 18 universities: Boston University, Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, Drexel University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, New York University, Ohio State University, Princeton University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of California at Berkeley, University of California at San Diego, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, University of Pittsburgh and the University of Southern California.
As with its other lawsuits against individual file-swappers, the recording industry group said it is filing anonymous "John Doe" lawsuits, based on individual computer users' Internet addresses. The identities of the students will be determined later though a court process.
Sherman said that no suits are being filed against the operators of the i2Hub network for now, although the group does have the names of the individuals who created the service. He declined to give details on how the RIAA gathered the data on the individuals who are being sued.
Since launching as a pure file-trading network, i2Hub has expanded into other services, such as textbook exchanges.
According to Sherman, the Motion Picture Association of America will also take legal action against "several" i2Hub file-swappers. An MPAA representative could not immediately be reached for comment.
The MPAA opened discussions with Internet2 officials last year, hoping to be help test high-speed content delivery on the network, as well as monitor it for piracy. Sherman said he would like the RIAA to join those discussions.