Record Industry Has No Plan to Seek Names of Students Trading
News bulletin from the Chronicle of Higher Education, 3.1.29
By ANDREA L. FOSTER
In a case that campus-network administrators followed closely,
the recording industry won an important legal victory last
week that will help record companies ferret out music fans who
illegally trade copyrighted material. But an industry official
says the victory doesn't mean companies will start demanding
the names of college students who pass song files around -- at
least not yet.
"We have no current plans to do that, but that doesn't mean we
wouldn't in the future," says Cary H. Sherman, president and
general counsel of the Recording Industry Association of
America, a group representing record companies. "I can't rule
The court case pitted the RIAA against Verizon Communications,
which had declined to turn over the name of a Verizon customer
who had allegedly downloaded nearly 600 songs using KaZaA, a
popular file-sharing system. The RIAA sued to learn the
customer's name, saying the Digital Millennium Copyright Act
required Verizon to reveal it.
Judge John D. Bates, of the U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia, sided with the RIAA, ruling on January
21 that Section 512 of the digital copyright act permits a
copyright owner to send a subpoena ordering a service provider
to reveal information about a subscriber. The subpoena doesn't
require a judge's permission.
The ruling prompted a flurry of speculation among college
administrators about whether the recording-industry group
would regularly present subpoenas to colleges demanding that
they identify students who swapped music online.
Mr. Sherman says the recording industry group has not
presented subpoenas to colleges asking for the identity of
students who share music online. When copyright owners
complain to colleges about individuals who use campus networks
to share movies or music illegally, the owners usually
identify violators through the numerical Internet address of
the user's machine. Colleges now receive hundreds of such
complaints each month.
Because the recording-industry group communicates periodically
with college administrators about copyright infringement, it
hasn't felt the need to demand that colleges hand over the
names of copyright violators, Mr. Sherman says.
"We are operating in good faith together to try to address the
problem in a very productive manner. We would hope not to have
to be going down the road we had to go down with Verizon."
Nonetheless, Mr. Sherman says he believes that colleges
qualify as Internet service providers under the digital
copyright law. So the institutions can be subpoenaed to hand
over the names of infringing students, he says.
That point is not lost on Sheldon E. Steinbach, vice president
and general counsel of the American Council on Education.
If the court decision is upheld, "the message to students will
be clear," he says. "We can find you, and you can be held
personally liable for copyright infringement." Verizon plans
to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia Circuit.
But at least one college administrator speculates that the
recording industry would be reluctant to pursue colleges.
Tracy B. Mitrano, director of the computer policy and law
program at Cornell University, says colleges would
vociferously assert their traditions to uphold academic
freedom, free speech, and fair use if the record companies
asked for students' identities.
"If I were in the entertainment industry and looking to
enforce" the digital copyright law, she says, "I would more
likely want to pursue a commercial Internet service provider,
and perhaps one that has moved into broadband, because that's
where this activity is moving."