U will not shield student file-sharers from subpoenas

As record companies demand students’ offline identities, some schools have stalled the industry’s crusade in the courts.

The recording industry is using a 1998 law to hunt file-sharing college students and causing some universities to attempt to withhold students’ names.

That will not likely happen at the University. Despite confidentiality codes at the University, officials say they will turn over names if ordered – drawing mixed reactions from students and lawyers.

“If it’s a lawful demand, we will turn over the names,” General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said.

The Recording Industry Association of America began obtaining subpoenas in June for the names of those they suspect are illegally sharing files.

Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology attempted to temporarily hold students’ names from record industry investigators last month, saying the subpoenas were improperly filed.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro agreed, forcing the recording industry to file another subpoena in the correct court.

Rotenberg said similar errors in subpoenas might be a reason the University would withhold students’ information.

Several students said they hope the University would fight a subpoena to keep a network user’s name private. But others said the University can do more by staying out of a courtroom battle.

“That’s a lot of money to spend in a

battle that they’re probably not going to win,” said Jacob Cerny, a first-year mechanical

engineering student who has used the popular file-sharing programs Morpheus and KaZaA to download music videos and songs.

University law professor Fred Morrison said the power Congress gave the recording industry to subpoena Internet service providers for individual names overrides any educational privacy policies.

Other universities are choosing to fight subpoenas because they are likely interpreting the law differently, he said.

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act outlines ways copyright holders can

investigate suspected copyright abusers, including subpoenaing names from Internet service providers.

“I think the University has read the statute as quite broad as far as recognizing the industry has the power to do this,” he said. “If the University ends up being right, we’ll have saved a lot of money by not (fighting) this.”

First-year computer science student Jared Wilson agreed the University should not spend time fighting subpoenas.

“To fight subpoenas isn’t helping anything,” Wilson said. “Universities should argue the legality of file sharing.”

Students are just customers on the University network, he said. If they break the network user policy banning file sharing, he said, the University has the right to turn over the information.

“It’s their network,” he said. “You made the choice (to share songs).”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.