Schools cite privacy rights to fight music-use subpoenas

Reactions are mixed from schools and colleges around the United States to record-industry efforts to target file-sharing students as copyright violators, but two major universities now have gone to court at least to slow the process down.

Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have moved to quash subpoenas seeking the names of students suspected of internet music piracy, saying the subpoenas are illegal because they weren’t filed properly.

The schools said the subpoenas, issued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), didn’t allow for adequate time to notify the students, as mandated by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said on July 22 the school did not object to providing the information.

“We’re not trying to protect our students from the consequences of copyright infringement,” he said. “Once the subpoenas are properly filed, we will comply with the subpoenas.”

Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the RIAA, said the association was “disappointed that these universities have chosen to litigate this and thus deny us and other copyright holders the rights so clearly granted by Congress.”

Lamy said the association followed federal law when it filed the subpoenas.

This spring, following a challenge by Verizon Communications Inc., a federal judge affirmed the constitutionality of a law allowing music companies to force internet providers to release the names of suspected music pirates upon subpoena from any federal court clerk’s office. Verizon has appealed.

The recording industry association has filed at least 871 subpoenas in U.S. District Court in Washington this month, demanding information from universities and Internet service providers about users of the online file-sharing network KaZaA.

It’s part of a strategy to jolt internet music fans to stop file-sharing by pursuing small-time downloaders along with heavier users.

The subpoenas request the names and numbers of one MIT student and three Boston College students who allegedly obtained the music under various screen names.

BC argued in a motion to quash the subpoenas filed July 21 that the subpoenas broke federal law because they were served in Boston, more than 100 miles from where they were filed in federal court in Washington D.C.

It also said the subpoenas gave the schools less than a week to produce the information and too little time to properly notify the students under the privacy act.

In a statement, MIT didn’t specify why it believed the subpoenas were illegal, but also cited the privacy act to explain why it filed a motion to quash the subpoenas. The school said its decision didn’t mean it was taking sides in the debate over downloading music on the internet for free.

“But we are required by federal law to disclose student information only if we have a valid subpoena and have given the necessary advance notice,” James Bruce, vice president for information systems at MIT, said in a statement. An MIT spokesman said the school would have no further comment.

Not all schools who’ve received a subpoena are fighting it. Boston-area Northeastern University spokesman Rick Mickool said school officials would provide the name of the one student subpoenaed. He said the university’s legal counsel had no objection.



Boston College

Northeastern University


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