RIAA Subpoenas Refused Admission At Two Colleges

Massachusetts institutions say requests violate federal privacy law.

Just when the recording industry's witch hunt for online music pirates was frighteningly in full swing, two Massachusetts colleges may have thrown a monkey wrench in the works.

Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed motions Monday in Boston's U.S. District Court to quash subpoenas they received asking for the identities of suspected pirates.

The Recording Industry Association of America this month has sent hundreds of such subpoenas to Internet service providers and colleges, supplying them with IP addresses — sort of an electronic fingerprint that identifies all computers connected to the Internet — and asking for the identities of the corresponding users (see "RIAA Goes After File Traders With Hundreds Of Subpoenas").

The schools claim the subpoenas are unlawful, citing a federal law called the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which requires schools to notify students before releasing personal information. A Boston College spokesperson estimated a reasonable amount of time for doing so to be a week, maybe longer, given that most students aren't on campus in the summer.

Plus, according to the privacy act, subpoenas need to be filed in a court within 100 miles of the person or institution being subpoenaed, so that someone contesting a subpoena doesn't have to travel far to do so. The RIAA's subpoenas were filed in Washington, D.C.

The schools said they would abide by the subpoenas once the proper qualifications were met.

The subpoena sent to Boston College requested the identities of three users of the Kazaa network, while MIT's subpoena asked for the name of only one student.

Should the schools' motions be granted, the RIAA doesn't plan to refile each subpoena locally, according to a spokesperson. Instead, the organization will take steps toward having a judge enforce the existing subpoenas, a procedure with which it has some experience. In early June a judge upheld a subpoena requiring ISP Verizon Internet Services to cough up the names of four subscribers, setting the precedent for the RIAA's aggressive campaign.

Earlier this month, about 150 additional subpoenas were sent to Verizon, which said it would hand over subscribers' identities only after exhausting all legal challenges, The Boston Globe, reported. Verizon's initial appeal is scheduled to be heard September 16.

The paper also reported that Boston's Northeastern University and Loyola University Chicago would comply with the subpoenas, while DePaul University in Chicago said it was unable to identify the student sought in its subpoena from the IP information provided.

For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.