University Of Michigan Shops File-Sharing Students To The RIAA (Or Not)

from the go-blue dept

The RIAA’s aggressively going after file-sharing college students these days, offering them “discounts” on settlements before hitting them with copyright-infringement suits. Forcing the kids to pay up and settle is far preferable to the group than having to actually go to court and follow such inconveniences as proper legal procedure, and after all, what’s a little bit of bullying when you can get it at a discount? It’s also been using its influence in Congress to get legislators to threaten colleges and universities into doing more to stop file-sharing on their networks, even though they have no responsibility to do so. The threats are working on at least one school, the University of Michigan, where an IT administrator says it’s working with the RIAA to identify students the group says are illegally sharing music. Certainly the RIAA has the right to try and find out the identity of people it thinks are infringing its members’ copyrights — but it doesn’t want to do it the proper way (by filing John Doe lawsuits, then going to court and getting a subpoena for ISP records), and has a history of trying to work around the law. If the university had been presented with legitimate subpoenas, obviously it would need to divulge the records and students’ identities. But from the email the administrator sent out to students and faculty, it sounds as if the RIAA never went to the trouble of getting them, and the university is simply just rolling over. This is all very similar to the way the RIAA used to try and bully ISPs, but since that avenue essentially got shut down, it appears to have moved on to schools. The RIAA is well within its rights to pursue these suits (even if suing the hell out of your customers really isn’t a great idea), but it must act within the same laws and rules as the rest of us, and there’s simply no reason for colleges and universities — or ISPs — to be its lapdog and give up information without proper legal cause. Update: As noted in the comments, the original post at Wired has been changed after some further clarification from a University of Michigan lawyer, who says the school is merely informing some students that they’re targets of the RIAA, and that it cannot hand over their identities without a subpoena — contrary to the Wired writer (and plenty of other people’s) original understanding of the email that was sent out.

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Comments on “University Of Michigan Shops File-Sharing Students To The RIAA (Or Not)”

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Sirwoogie says:

Not quite Carlo

If you read the message Paul Howell (Chief IT security guy at UM), you’d note that he is simply stating the university policy. Nowhere does it say they’ve handed over the names. Rather that they are notifying the students the RIAA has come knocking.

Even the blogger in the link provided has redacted his statement and provided more background.

I worked for U of M IT. I know Paul Howell. He’s a good guy, and he doesn’t roll over for anybody.

Zach says:

Re: Not quite Carlo

Thank you for making that comment. I have seen numerous news stories misinterpreting Paul Howell’s email. I am a student at UofM myself, and I found Mr. Howell’s email to be completely appropriate for the situation. There have been stories in the campus newspaper (The Michigan Daily) concerning the increase in RIAA activity, and I think that the University contacting all students to inform them that this is an important issue is a logical step.

Nowhere in the email does it say that the University was gladly handing over names; all it says is that the identities that the RIAA notified them of would be contacted by the University. The issue has been completely overblown.

Disclaimer: In no way do I agree with what the RIAA is doing, but legally the University of Michigan has done everything by the book. Simply because the RIAA has stepped up their attacks against college students is no reason to bash UofM.

Dragon says:


You know what we all could care less bout the RIAA… No matter what they try to do, there will always be some1, 3rd party software, or hackers that will always find a way to beat them… RIAA might as well give up because no matter how many people they try to bully, It’s never going to stop. They can close one door, but 3 or more will open to find a way around them. So be short bout it… the RIAA is nothing more then a lose lose situation, and they can all go @#$ my @#$@..

Paul Emmons says:

Re: Re: RIAA BS!!

When I was a college student in the late 60s, an LP sold for $5-$8, so I can’t agree that a CD at $17 is overpriced by that standard. I don’t like the RIAA strong-arm tactics or the latest copyright extension acts etc., but they are provoked by people trying to get something for nothing. A pox on both their houses.

Thank heaven, most of the best music was written 100-1000 years ago anyway, and is therefore in the public domain (although new recordings aren’t). If new music is not worth buying, why waste your time listening to it?

Rob says:

From Wired’s Listening Post:
3/15 Update: I just spoke with Jack Bernard, Assistant General Counsel for the University of Michigan; the university is not identifying students suspected of sharing files to the RIAA, as was erroneously stated here. He said, “the university cannot disclose the students’ names associated with an IP address without a valid production document [subpoena] or permission from the students.” I regret the error, which was a result of my misreading of the email. The University of Michigan has notified the students that are targets of potential RIAA lawsuits, and the students themselves will make the decision about whether to identify themselves to the RIAA and commence settlement talks.

billy says:


Glad to see that UofM is standing up and now just bending over.
They get 3 cheers.
Although, I went to a different Michigan university (I will not say which, so I can pretend that I am anonymous online).
I have no clue how they are handling this shit now (I finished last spring) but I do recall hearing about the RIAA coming a knockin’ and getting turned away.

Timeline says:

Go back to our roots

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. –The Declaration of Independence

DeTOX says:

Re: Go back to our roots

I could agree with this somewhat.

–it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it!

abolish the RIAA and MPAA they are destructive of our rights.

Life – To live like we want free, free to download anything we want.

Liberty – Freedom is great, freedom of the internet and to download what we want. I pay for internet so if I can get it there I’ve paid my share.

Pursuit of Happiness – Downloading music and movies is my pursuit of happiness.


Anonymous Coward says:

The Rochester Institute of Technology is also, at this time, sending out a message that the school will be cooperating with the RIAA if they choose to ‘bully’ a student with a discount. While they are doing this they are also pushing their own legal alternative, which is a pay per month service that allows you to stream audio. Everyone has to line there pockets somehow I guess.

Nobody Special says:

quite nice

I think what th e University did was a huge gift. If you have such advance notice of the impending action, you can take actions needed to fight back even if you are guilty. If I were a student there and guilty I would take actions to ensure no evidence was found on my computer. The nice thing is that the actions can be taken with enough lead time that they can’t claim you did this in response to a suit.

In addition to cleaning my drive, if there and guilty I would take whatever steps needed to alter my PC’s mac address.

A Human Mind says:

The original story may have been correct

The lawyer’s special wording does not imply that the original story was incorrect.

Both versions of the story are consistent with the idea that the RIAA wants the university to research their students and send the students intimidating letters where the students would then reveal themselves to the RIAA.

A bigger picture may also exist. Depending on how cooperatively the letter to students is crafted, the mailing list may be equated with a the-university-believes-you-are-guilty list which seems like it would be very vulnerable to a subpoeana.

The author’s original instincts may end up being correct.

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