MIT recently notified a member of the MIT community that it would provide information identifying the person to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
The RIAA issued a subpoena to MIT in late August under the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act, alleging that a computer on the MIT network had illegally distributed copyrighted music. The subpoena sought information about the identity of the alleged infringer listed by an Internet provider (IP) address in the subpoena.
Chancellor Philip L. Clay and Professor James D. Bruce, vice president for information systems, issued the following statement:
"While MIT will be aggressive in protecting student privacy based on our values and the law, we would also remind members of the community that violations of copyrights are unlawful. MIT cannot protect students from legal redress that copyright owners have and insist on using.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½
"The file-sharing issue is the latest in a set of issues where law, technology and culture clash. Students are least prepared, based on experience, to move through this thicket. As an educational institution, we have a special obligation to help students understand this clash and to work with all parties to explore lawful means to take advantage of the new technologies."
MIT had filed a motion to quash an earlier RIAA subpoena for the same information. That subpoena was issued in July from a federal court in Washington, D.C., and gave MIT only two days in which to produce the information. MIT argued in its motion that the subpoena should have been issued from the Massachusetts federal court and that MIT should have been given sufficient time to send written prior notice to the student whose information would be disclosed, as required by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
MIT explained in the court papers filed with its motion that it was not taking sides in the debate over the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or the RIAA's use of that law to obtain information about alleged copyright infringers. But the Institute said it could release information only in response to a properly issued subpoena that allowed time to provide reasonable prior written notice to any student involved.
On Aug. 7, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts allowed MIT's motion to quash the July subpoena. On Aug. 26, the RIAA served MIT with a new subpoena issued from the federal court in Massachusetts, and as a result of that properly issued subpoena, MIT gave the individual involved written prior notice that it would provide the information requested.
Even before the recent RIAA subpoenas, MIT has been receiving "takedown" notices from music industry representatives under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Those notices allege copyright infringement by a particular computer on the MIT network. When MIT receives such a notice, it is forwarded to the owner of the machine.
Unauthorized downloading and sharing of computer files containing a song, a movie, a software program, or a game--even one song--is against the law. It can expose individuals to both civil and criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment. In addition, the volume of such activities can seriously degrade network performance throughout the campus.
When MIT receives a notice of a copyright infringement, the notice is forwarded to the owner of the machine where the infringement was detected. If the materials are removed and that person has not previously engaged in unauthorized use of copyrighted material, the case is quickly resolved by removal of the unauthorized material. If the matter is not promptly resolved, MIT may suspend network access to the computer in question, and may file disciplinary complaints with the Dean of Students, the department of Human Resources, or the Provost's Office, as appropriate.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 10, 2003.