Privacy Versus Piracy

The legal battle being waged by the University of Oregon and Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers against the Recording Industry Association of America is attracting attention, and support, from around the country. Earlier this week, New York Times legal columnist Adam Liptak discussed the case, in which Myers and the University are challenging a RIAA lawsuit seeking to identify 17 UO students for music piracy:

The record industry got a surprise when it subpoenaed the University of Oregon in September, asking it to identify 17 students who had made available songs from Journey, the Cars, Dire Straits, Sting and Madonna on a file-sharing network.

The surprise was not that 20-year-olds listen to Sting. It was that the university fought back.

Represented by the state’s attorney general, Hardy Myers, the university filed a blistering motion to quash the subpoena, accusing the industry of misleading the judge, violating student privacy laws and engaging in questionable investigative practices. Cary Sherman, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the industry had seen “a lot of crazy stuff” filed in response to its lawsuits and subpoenas. “But coming from the office of an attorney general of a state?” Mr. Sherman asked, incredulous. “We found it really surprising and disappointing.”

No one should shed tears for people who steal music and have to face the consequences. But it is nonetheless heartening to see a university decline to become the industry’s police officer and instead to defend the privacy of its students.

Myers has accused the RIAA of employing potentially illegal tactics:

In the past four years, record companies have sued tens of thousands of people for violating the copyright laws by sharing music on the Internet. The people it sues tend to settle, paying the industry a few thousand dollars rather than risking a potentially ruinous judgment by fighting in court.

“Certainly it is appropriate for victims of copyright infringement to lawfully pursue statutory remedies,” Mr. Myers wrote last month. “However, that pursuit must be tempered by basic notions of privacy and due process.”

“The larger issue,” Mr. Myers said, “is whether plaintiffs’ investigative and litigation strategies are appropriate.”

Mr. Myers questioned the tactics of MediaSentry, an investigative company hired by the recording industry. He said the company seemed to use data mining techniques to obtain “private, confidential information unrelated to copyright infringement.” He added that it may have violated an Oregon criminal law requiring investigators to be licensed.

Liptak praises Myers' and UO's challenge to the lawsuit:

At least one other public university in Oregon has cooperated with the industry. In 2004, Portland State responded to a record industry subpoena by blandly and efficiently providing the names, addresses, phone numbers and goofy e-mail addresses of two roommates. The university said it could not say which student’s computer was involved, so it fingered both of them.

“We definitely felt betrayed,” said Karen Conway, the mother of one of the roommates. “They readily turned over private information without notifying us. They placed responding to a legal subpoena far above a student’s right to privacy.”

Mr. Sherman said the University of Oregon should disclose what it knew and let the legal system sort out the rest. “It’s no different than us subpoenaing Verizon,” he said.

But an institution of higher education has different aspirations and obligations than an Internet service provider, which is why Portland State’s actions are so unsettling. The University of Oregon’s efforts may be doomed, but there is something bracing about them nonetheless.

All the university is saying, after all, is that the record industry must make its case in court before the university will point a finger at one of its own.

Read the rest. Discuss.

  • BCM (unverified)

    Good for Hardy! The RIAA are bunch of anachronistic thugs who can't seem to figure out that times have changed and unless you don't change with them you're finished. This point stands aside from their bullying and egregious privacy invasions-which Hardy seems to agree with.

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    I'm proud of my Attorney General. Thank you, Hardy!

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    I'm pretty radical on copyright; I think it's a useless artifact of the predigital age. Creativity flows where talent takes it, with or without protection of assets.

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    Whoops. Hit send. (cont) But that's peripheral to the issue Myers raises, over the tactics of the industry. In this instance I see Myers acting as the protectorate of the legal interests of Oregon residents--and that is great to see. I find myself enamored of Kroger because he professes to make the AGs office one that acts as the people's lawyer rather than the governor's lawyer or the state apparatus' legal and 'corporate' representative.

    <h2>Disappointing to see the outlook bleak for the eventual decision, but it fights the good fight. More enforcement power for the AG's office in the next budget!</h2>
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