Judge says Marshall must ID students in downloading case

In the latest case pitting a university against the music industry in its fight against online music piracy, a federal judge says Marshall University must identify seven students who the music industry claims have illegally downloaded music from the internet.

U.S. Magistrate Maurice G. Taylor refused on April 14 to quash a subpoena obtained by the music industry that seeks the students’ names. Taylor gave Marshall 30 days to comply after an amended subpoena is filed.

Marshall had argued that the subpoena was too broad and placed an undue burden on the university’s limited resources. In court filings, Marshall said it would cost an estimated $337.50 to investigate each of the seven internet protocol addresses.

Marshall also contended that identifying the students would violate privacy laws.

The recording industry said companies only wanted identifying information that Marshall already acknowledged having. In a court filing, the industry said it believed Marshall “responded to a virtually identical subpoena less than a year ago, with no cries of undue burden.”

Twelve people were identified as a result of the previous subpoena granted by a federal judge in 2007. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued three of those people for copyright infringement. Two of the lawsuits were settled, and a default judgment was entered in the third case.

The music industry has sued more than 30,000 people for illegal downloading, many of them college students using university internet services. Many of the cases have been settled by the defendants agreeing to pay record companies a few thousand dollars apiece.

Oregon’s attorney general also is fighting subpoenas from the music industry. The Oregon attorney general’s office called the RIAA’s request for the University of Oregon to identify 17 students the group claims violated copyright laws “overbroad and burdensome” in court documents filed last year in U.S. District Court in Eugene.

“Sadly, the university’s efforts thus far have been met by accusations that the university is obstructing the process and even conspiring with law breakers,” Assistant Attorney General Katherine Von Ter Stegge said in the filing.

“Those accusations are not warranted,” she said. “The record in this case suggests that the larger issue may not be whether students are sharing copyrighted music, but whether [the industry’s] investigative and litigation strategies are appropriate.”

The documents also refer to another Oregon case involving the music industry filed by a Beaverton woman who claims she was the victim of abusive legal tactics, threats, and illegal spying in the RIAA’s crackdown on music piracy (see “Suit could force disclosure of RIAA methods").

In yet another case where a university has claimed the RIAA’s efforts placed an undue burden on campus officials, the music industry group last fall agreed to pay the University of Nebraska-Lincoln $20 to retain information about each computer user it suspects of illegally downloading music.  In return, the university agreed to hold for six months files and other documents that allow it to correlate an IP address with a computer user.

The agreement cut out a step that UNL had objected to—a letter from the RIAA requesting that the university preserve those files. Often, months would elapse between that letter and a later request to forward to the computer user in question an eMail message threatening a lawsuit and offering a settlement. The university objected to having to retain the files indefinitely.

“What I think this shows is that campuses are taking this seriously, and they are being creative with respect to finding solutions that work for their own campus environment,” said Steven Worona, director of policy and networking programs for Educause, a nonprofit higher-education technology organization.


Recording Industry Association of America

Marshall University

University of Oregon

University of Nebraska-Lincoln



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