Two universities win battle against RIAA subpoenas

The U.S. recording industry received a setback in its nation-wide campaign to quash music piracy on the Internet Friday when a federal judge ruled that two universities did not have to comply with subpoenas requesting that they hand over the identities of students who could be illegally sharing music online.

Both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Boston College won their requests to reject subpoenas issued by the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA) over jurisdictional issues, according the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The universities argued that the subpoenas, which were filed in Washington D.C., did not apply to them in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro’s ruling in the universities’ favour could prove an obstacle for the RIAA’s piracy offensive, given that the group has reportedly filed some 2,000 subpoenas through the Washington D.C. court, according to the EFF.

The ruling could mean that the group will have to file subpoenas in courts across the country where it believes infringement is occurring, a much longer and more complicated process, the EFF said.

EFF Staff Attorney Wendy Seltzer cheered the decision Friday, saying in a release that the ruling “confirms that due process applies to Internet user privacy nation wide.” The EFF has been battling the RIAA campaign, saying that the group’s efforts compromise the privacy of individual users.

The San Francisco-based privacy group isn’t alone in its rejection of the RIAA’s latest campaign. Pacific Bell Internet Services, a subsidiary of SBC Communications Inc., has filed a suit in California alleging that the RIAA’s subpoenas are a threat to subscribers’ privacy and a burden on ISPs (Internet service providers).

What’s more, Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, has also publicly spoken out against the group, calling the subpoenas a “shotgun” approach to piracy.

The RIAA’s spraying of administrative subpoenas is just the latest strategy in a battle against Internet piracy that stems from the early days of Napster Inc. And while the group’s efforts to go after individual users has sparked some controversy and backlash, its campaign against piracy on the legal front has been mostly successful.

The group managed to knock Napster offline last year and has since won rulings in cases against Madster – formerly called Aimster – and other peer-to-peer (p-to-p) file trading networks.

Having had success in cases against p-to-p networks, the industry has now focused on going after individual users with the aid of ISPs. Although Friday’s ruling could slow down the subpoena process, that does not mean that ISPs won’t eventually be ordered to comply.

Verizon Internet Services Inc., for instance, lost its bid in June to protect the names of customers accused of illegal file trading.

The recording industry is using as its defense part of the 1998 U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which allows copyright holders to subpoena ISPs for the names of people they believe are using their copyrighted material without permission.

The EFF is campaigning for ISPs to notify users when their information is being sought. The group has also created an online database where users can check to see if their identifies have been subpoenaed by the RIAA. The database is at http://www.eff.org/IP/P2P/riaasubpoenas/

The RIAA was not immediately available Monday morning to comment on the ruling.



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