Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, citing concerns about student privacy, moved yesterday to quash subpoenas issued by the recording industry to discover the identities of students the industry says are illegally distributing copyrighted music.
The moves represent one of the first major obstacles for the recording industry in its campaign against ordinary computer users who share copyrighted music. Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America, said he was disappointed and vowed legal action to obtain the information.
“These universities have chosen to litigate this in an attempt to deny copyright holders the right so clearly granted in Congress,” Lamy said, referring to the colleges’ refusal to release the names of the students.
MIT and Boston College yesterday said that they support the rights of copyright holders and would comply with any subpoena that addressed their concerns about the proper notification of students and was filed “properly” in US District Court in Massachusetts, not in Washington D.C.
The RIAA has filed at least 871 subpoenas in US District Court in Washington this month, demanding information from universities and Internet service providers about users of the Internet file-sharing network KaZaA. MIT and Boston College said they are required under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act to notify students before they release personal information such as names and addresses.
“MIT of course has a policy of complying with lawfully issued subpoenas,” the school’s information services director, James Bruce, said in an e-mail statement. But Bruce said that MIT had been advised by counsel that the subpoena was not in compliance with court rules concerning the proper venue for such a filing and “did not allow MIT time to send any notice as the law requires.”
The recording industry’s strategy – pursuing both high-profile users with hundreds of megabytes of music as well as small-time downloaders – is intended as a wake-up call to Internet music enthusiasts like Alexa Bedell-Healey, a Wellesley College sophomore who downloads a “fair number of songs” from her dorm room computer. But, like many students on college campuses in Boston, yesterday, the 19-year old said she’s going to keep downloading.”I would definitely have to know someone who got one” of the subpoenas, said Bedell-Healey, who lives in Needham. “No, definitely not going to stop until I know someone who’s getting sued.” The RIAA has not specifically said what damages it will seek. But under federal law, it can ask for $750 to $150,000 for each illegally shared song.
The industry is demanding information from Boston College about three students, including two who used the screen names “TheLastReal7” and “Prtythug23,” who shared music using KaZaA, a program developed by Sydney, Australia-based Sharman Networks Ltd.
In a subpoena addressed to MIT, the association is demanding the name, address, and phone number of a student who used the nickname “crazyface” to download at least five songs, including Radiohead’s “Idioteque” and Dave Matthews Band’s “Ants Marching.”
In each subpoena, the recording industry organization provides a KaZaA screen name, an Internet Protocol, or IP, address, and a list of songs it says were shared from the location. Service providers are then asked to release the names of the users whose computers are associated with the addresses.
Northeastern University, the birthplace of the original peer-to-peer music program, Napster, received at least one subpoena; students there seemed indifferent about the record industry’s latest effort. “Even if I told my roommates about it, I don’t think they they’d care,” said Justin Ries,, 20, a third-year student from Eatontown, N.J.
About 150 of the subpoenas were addressed to Verizon Communications Inc., which said Friday that it will release the names and addresses only after exhausting all legal challenges. Comcast, which did not say how many subpoenas it had received, plans to comply fully with the requests, a spokeswoman said.
Some educational institutions named by the recording industry, including Northeastern and Loyola University Chicago, said they will comply with the subpoenas.
Loyola traced the address given by the record industry group to a dorm room occupied by two summer school students and notified them of the subpoena, said spokesman Nick Mariano.
At Northeastern, officials have contacted the student in question and are planning to release the information unless he or she raises a formal objection, said spokesman Glenn Hill.
Denise Mattson, a spokeswoman for DePaul University in Chicago, said the school has been unable to determine who was using the computer listed in the subpoena.
Under a provision of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed by Congress to combat music piracy, music companies may issue the subpoenas without a judge’s approval. Verizon has challenged that aspect of the law, saying it violates users’ rights to due process and privacy. A judge ruled in January, however, that subpoenas do not require a judge’s signature; Verizon again appealed.