Colleges Balk at RIAA Requests

Posted on August 13, 2008

Colleges are furious with the RIAA, which has been ramping up its efforts to stop illegal file sharing on college campuses. The colleges had been cooperating with forwarding notices of proposed settlements to students and in stopping illegal behavior, but it's now taking up so much time that the educators are fighting back against subpeonas and requests for private information. But it may be too late.

On e-mail lists and in interviews, university CIO's and other information-technology professionals say their mission is getting derailed and staff time is being overloaded by copyright takedown notices, "prelitigation settlement letters," RIAA-issued subpoenas, lobbying efforts, and panicked students accused of piracy.

Now, feeling burdened and betrayed, some of those universities are quietly fighting back, resisting requests for information and trying to quash subpoenas. Those that do so, though, find that their past compliance — and the continued compliance of their peer institutions — is being held against them.

"We feel like we've been led down the garden path, and our interest in working in partnership and leading our mission as educators is now being used against us," said Tracy Mitrano, director of IT policy at Cornell University.

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In court documents and interviews, the RIAA has argued that past compliance with the subpoenas means that they were not an "undue burden" before, so they should not be one now. Both Morehead State's and Marshall's motions to quash the subpoenas were denied. The judges in both cases said there was no "undue burden" because investigations were not actually necessary to abide by Ferpa regulations. In the Morehead State ruling, the judge pointedly noted that "Morehead has responded, without objection, to virtually identical requests in other, similar litigation."

The colleges are in big trouble. Because the cooperated with the RIAA before, courts are ruling that complying must not be a burden. A university's job is not to be a full-time policeman, but that's what's happening. We foresee some appeals by the colleges as they fight back -- belatedly -- against the RIAA's increasingly burdensome demands.



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