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MU must comply with music download subpoena, judge says

Apr. 14, 2008 @ 08:20 PM

HUNTINGTON — A federal judge in Huntington blocked Marshall University’s attempt to quash a subpoena, as the recording industry continues its fight against illegal music downloads.

The subpoena orders Marshall to provide names for seven students who the industry believes illegally downloaded music over the Internet. The Board of Governors believes releasing the information will result in students being named in a lawsuit, according to court documents.

The university received the record companies’ subpoena in February. The two sides have been arguing ever since.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Maurice G. Taylor Jr. filed his ruling Monday. It orders Marshall to identify student(s) who were associated with seven Internet protocol addresses at the school. Marshall will have 30 days to comply once an amended subpoena is filed.

In court documents, Marshall said it does not condone or support copyright infringements, but it worried the subpoena was too broad, placed an undue burden on the university’s limited resources and would violate privacy laws aimed at protecting students. Marshall also worried releasing information on this occasion will result in future subpoenas and future costs.

The recording industry disagreed and said it did not ask the university to undertake a factual investigation. Instead, its court filing argued the recording companies only wanted identifying information that Marshall already admits to having. It believed the university “responded to a virtually identical subpoena less than a year ago, with no cries of undue burden.”

A federal judge granted the previous subpoena in spring 2007. It, together with the university’s cooperation, resulted in 12 people being identified. That led to three lawsuits being filed, two against people living in southern West Virginia and one against a person living in southern Ohio.

Two of the lawsuits were settled, while a default judgment was entered against Tristan Hicks of Gallagher, according to court documents and information from the Recording Industry Association of America. Court documents state Hicks was ordered to pay $6,000 in damages for downloading eight songs, a penalty of $750 per recording. The court also ordered Hicks to pay $420 in court costs.

The recording industry has filed more than 28,000 copyright infringement lawsuits since 2003. That tally includes a college initiative that started in February 2007, when the industry noticed numerous downloads on college campuses, according to RIAA information.

So far, the industry has targeted 27 students at Marshall University, according to the RIAA.

In the case at hand, Marshall University states an investigation would be required to ensure the accuracy of information identifying the seven students. It estimates investigating each Internet protocol address would cost $337.50.

“(The university) must affirmatively investigate to determine whether the computer at issue is in fact connected to Marshall’s network,” university attorneys state in court documents. “It must then locate the user names associated with the computer or account, if possible. If not possible, it must identify the location where the connection was made. It must then identify the names of the students who resided at the location and may have visited the location, and produce the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and MAC addresses of the residents.”

The recording industry’s subpoenas concern copyright infringements that occur over peer-to-peer networks. It argued Marshall University could avoid additional subpoenas by installing appropriate filters to block copyrighted content.

Federal privacy laws allow universities to publicize and release information that could be found in a typical directory.

Taylor said complying with the subpoena does not jeopardize the university’s ability to adhere to privacy laws.