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Monday, Oct. 27, 9:27 a.m.
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UMS refuses to hand student info to RIAA

The University of Maine System has refused a request from the Recording Industry Association of America to produce names of students who allegedly downloaded copyrighted materials.

The system has also opted not to forward the RIAA’s pre-litigation letters offering settlements to those students, although the schools those students attend will inform their students of the letters and give them a chance to pick up the letters if they so choose.

At the University of Maine, students with pending RIAA lawsuits were told on Friday.

“It’s not the university’s role to, in effect, serve papers on our students for another party,” John Diamond, spokesman for the university system, said of the decision.

At the same time, the university has ensured those students get a chance to settle. “We want our students to be aware of it, but we do not feel that it is our obligation to be the arm of the RIAA beyond simply sharing the information,” Diamond said.

On Wednesday, the RIAA sent 27 letters to the UMS to forward to its students offering settlements before their alleged music piracy could go to court. The letters direct students to the Web site http://www.p2plawsuits.com, where students can admit guilt and settle for an amount far lower than the RIAA could get in court.

Of the 27 letters, 14 went to UMaine students. The remaining 13 went to students at every other UMS school except Farmington and Augusta.

The RIAA sent the system only the numerical Internet addresses of students the industry has accused of copyright violations. They asked the UMS to provide the names of those students.

Diamond said the RIAA’s request for student information asks the system to violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which bars the UMS from divulging information not considered public.

The Internet addresses the university assigns to students accessing the network is not public. Despite this, some institutions have given up their students’ names to avoid court fees.

“The only way the RIAA can get that information is if the RIAA takes us to court to get those names,” Diamond said.

According to Jon Ippolito, a UMaine new media professor and associate curator of media arts at the Guggenheim Museum, the university has taken a principled stance.

“[The RIAA] have so many lawyers that they can afford to send frivolous subpoenas right and left, and the mere threat to do so has caused some universities to cave right away,” said Ippolito, an expert on digital media.

On Thursday, Ippolito sent a letter to the university system urging administrators not to reveal students’ identities to the RIAA.

Ippolito said the practice of subpoenaing universities won’t necessarily hold water in court, and was critical of the RIAA’s newest tactics with colleges, a policy he called “mafia-like.”

“They want to bully universities into exposing students and also bully students directly into signing onto a discount,” Ippolito said. “There’s no legal process and that’s the end of the story.”

According to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1998 bill meant to protect copyrighted material in the digital age, the university is not responsible for copyright violations on its network. The university system needs only to make sure students delete any copyrighted works found by an outside agency such as the RIAA.