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 [email protected].

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