Wednesday, January 02, 2008

University of Oregon to RIAA: Let's see your hand

The RIAA has enjoyed something of an easy ride from universities whose students it claims have been illegally filesharing: the RIAA demands names, the universities cave.

Now, though, they've got opposition: the University of Oregon is fighting the request for 17 names; they've got Hardy Myers, the Attorney General of Oregon, to represent them:

“Certainly it is appropriate for victims of copyright infringement to lawfully pursue statutory remedies,” Mr. Myers wrote last month. “However, that pursuit must be tempered by basic notions of privacy and due process.”

“The larger issue,” Mr. Myers said, “is whether plaintiffs’ investigative and litigation strategies are appropriate.”

Amongst the privacy worries listed by Myers is the question over if MediaSentry, the RIAA's paid-for snoops, should be licensed to carry out this sort of investigation into Oregonians.

Unused to politicians and universities saying "no", the RIAA is having a bulging eye moment:
Cary Sherman, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the industry had seen “a lot of crazy stuff” filed in response to its lawsuits and subpoenas. “But coming from the office of an attorney general of a state?” Mr. Sherman asked, incredulous. “We found it really surprising and disappointing.”

A man who sues people for thousands and thousands of dollars per song suggesting some genuine privacy concerns is the crazy part, then.
The record companies, in an apoplectic response in court, accused the university of having “a political agenda.” They said that it was protecting people who had broken the law and that it was not entitled to raise privacy and due process arguments on behalf of its students.

“Hundreds of universities and dozens of commercial Internet service providers have responded to the exact same subpoenas,” the record companies’ lawyers wrote.

Ah. So, because nobody else was brave enough to stand up to a bunch of multinational companies, that means they must be in the right.

"I find it surprising that Tommy Beedle failed to hand over his lunch money" explained Booger Benson, "as dozens of other year ten students have responded to the exact same requests for cash."

By the way, the admissions late last year that the legal attacks on filesharing had failed to make a difference are being rewritten - now, apparently, it's all meant to be educational:
Mr. Sherman, of the recording industry association, predicted that Mr. Myers’s motion would fail and said the industry’s litigation strategy had worked well.

“The litigation program, as controversial as it is often written up to be, has been very successful in transforming public awareness,” Mr. Sherman said. “Everybody used to think this was legal. Now everybody knows it’s illegal.”

... but are still doing it anyway. Sherman has offered no figures on the proportion of the public who believed sharing copyrighted material "was legal" before the lawsuits started, compared with those knowing it's not now, but it does raise a question. Let's assume Sherman isn't lying in a bid to justify to the record companies why he's pissed millions away on a failing strategy; if "everyone" thought it was legal when the RIAA embarked on the lawsuits, isn't it a bit unfair to sue people for thousands for a practice that was genuinely and generally perceived to be allowed? If, on the other hand, it's fair to sue these people for so much, they must have known what they were doing were wrong, and therefore the educational value of the cases is zero. Which is it, Cary?