I think I should clarify that I do support copyright enforcement. But I
also stand for due process.
Much has been said of the Recording Industry Association of America’s
(RIAA) pending court battle to learn the identity of a Verizon DSL user that
knowingly and repeatedly infringed on copyrights. The stigma of
peer-to-peer file-sharing is now about the same as stealing cable and
perhaps rightfully so. To this extent, RIAA’s campaigns have served as
effective deterrents. But what deserves more attention is the impact those
campaigns are having.
While the RIAA is well armed with its arsenal of lawyers, it lacks the
technical expertise to implement its policies. Rather, it relies on network
administrators from the public and private sector to do much of the work to
enforce the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
“Welcome to the new world of copyrights,” said William Brawley of Dartmouth
Computing Services, the central computing group for the Ivy League school.
“What the industry has done with DMCA is shifted a lot of the policing to
people like me.”
Dartmouth is a school of only about 5,500 students. For schools like
Michigan or Ohio State, the task must be enormous. And with absolutely no
incentive provided to administrators aside from legal threats, the RIAA is
facing a seemingly endless, uphill battle. Still, network administrators
like Brawley want to protect their institutions so they do the grunt work.
He now receives takedown notices from the entertainment industry on a daily
basis. When he gets one, it takes him 15 to 30 minutes to root around on
his network’s records to find the perpetrator. Without ever notifying the
complainant, the “perp” is then ferreted out and adequately dealt with —
either via warning or purging files. Once completed, Brawley can then go
back to what he was hired to do: publish manuals and/or handouts or
communicate general interest information such as security postings.
Recently, outgoing Chairman and CEO Hilary Rosen added fuel to its fire testifying on Capitol Hill about the “growing epidemic” of copyright infringement on
our nation’s college campuses. “Last week, Universal Studios decided to
turn on the juice. Other schools were getting them in the hundreds. We
were getting them in batches of six,” Brawley explained.
But in the cases of 2,300 colleges and universities across the country,
the RIAA and the industry might be overstepping their legal boundaries. What
works in the Verizon case might not work when dealing with colleges and
universities because of the Family Education Rights and
Privacy Act (FERPA).
According to FERPA, school officials are permitted to access student
records but outside organizations like RIAA would need “to comply with a
judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena.” Currently, all takedown notices
originate from industry lawyers, not a judge or a court of law.
It’s not clear if IP addresses or ISP records are included in FERPA’s
provisions. It’s also not clear if any student has yet challenged the
entertainment industry’s latest barrage under FERPA. If FERPA does apply,
one thing is certain — the legal process is being usurped.
For now, Brawley continues to police his network on behalf of the
entertainment industry for Dartmouth’s sake. “I think they would be really
happy if people who do networking policy administration continue to error on
the conservative side.”
But as for his FERPA concerns, he added: “I’d be eager to get some
advice on that question from our legal department.”
Bob Liu is executive editor of internet.com’s News Channel, which includes the flagship internetnews.com Web site.