RealTime IT News

Best Defense is a Good Offense

After months of cowering at the hand of legal saber-rattling from a lone attorney representing Metallica and Dr. Dre, university officials are fighting back, refusing to ban Napster on their respective college campuses. Finally flexing a little legal muscle, Duke, Stanford, and MIT all sent rebuttal letters to Howard King, the LA-based attorney representing an aging metal band and a gangsta' rapper. The proactive King penned more than a dozen letters in early September asking some of the country's most well-respected institutions of higher learning to ban access to Napster.

Back in April, Metallica filed a trio of frivolous lawsuits against Yale, USC, and Bobby Knight's alma mater, alleging the universities' reluctance to restrict access to Napster made them liable just the same. Standing on shaky legal ground, Metallica's lawsuit read, "Facilitating [large-scale piracy] are hypocritical universities and colleges who could easily block this insidious and ongoing thievery scheme." The threat of legal action was an effort to scare other colleges into clamping down on students' use of the peer-to-peer file swapping software. Yale University quickly wilted like a wet noodle and banned the use of Napster on its networks to avoid getting involved in such a hotbed issue.

Duke University's legal beagles responded to King's veiled legal threats in an open letter prominently posted on the school's official Web site, opining, "We are not aware of any legal authority that would require the university to ban access to Napster." The Blue Devils went on to say that, "Duke has long been committed to fundamental principles of academic freedom and the uncensored dissemination of knowledge and information. We trust that you will acknowledge that there are legitimate educational and other non-infringing uses of Napster. Banning access to Napster, therefore, would be an overbroad response to a specific problem and it would have the effect of foreclosing legitimate and lawful uses of Napster."

The response comes just a week after the Oklahoma University campus police raided a 19-year-old student's dorm room scouring for bootleg MP3s. Campus officials were reacting to a warning letter from the Recording Industry Association of America citing a suspiciously high volume of music downloads on the campus' computer network. Again, fearing involvement in a potential legal brouhaha, OSU made a high-profile bust to help deflect unwanted attention coming from the RIAA. With most universities ducking for cover, the recording industry's mission to put Napster out of business looked poised to succeed without a single shot ever having been fired. That is, until now.

Make no mistake - Duke, Stanford, and MIT are all throwing down the gauntlet in regards to the legal issue of liability by pseudo-Internet service providers. Behind the scenes, you can be certain the subject was researched ad-nauseum, and all three universities are collectively prepared to go to court over the issue. But, that'll never happen. Deep-pockets and some of the brightest legal minds representing the universities will cause Howard King to blink. Other college campuses are sure to be paying close attention to the situation and will likely follow suit once they find out King's bite was never as big as his bark.

Any questions or comments, love letters or hate mail? As always, feel free to forward them to kblack@internet.com.

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