A U.S. law professor has exposed the feeble backbone of Loyola University Chicago - an institution that handed its students' names over to the pigopolist mob's subpoena machine without so much as a grumble. The precedent set by the university's nonchalance toward privacy bodes poorly for students should the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) get its way and place the children before a court of law.
Northwestern University law professor Anthony D'Amato has issued a strong caution to universities, calling on them to consider students' privacy before shipping them off to the RIAA sponsored legal gulag. Lawyers could turn Loyola's willingness to work with the RIAA into a black mark against students suspected of trading copyrighted files. More than that, however, D'Amato questions why Loyola - unlike MIT - was so ready to help the RIAA instead of its own tuition-paying kids.
"A school or university should consider carefully whether it wants to be co-opted into the law enforcement business," D'Amato wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Loyola might have mounted a strong legal challenge to the validity of the subpoena in the court that issued it, as well as, if necessary, the appellate courts.
"The students could be sued for damages as well as being prosecuted as felons, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. Suppose there is a criminal trial. Has Loyola's decision to comply with the subpoena prejudiced the student defendants?"
That's a good question.
Should their case go to trial, the Loyola students may find university officials handing out damaging bits of information. It seems the school has already cut off Internet access for the two students subpoenaed by the RIAA. In addition, Loyala has called the youngsters to face a disciplinary hearing.
D'Amato walks readers through the ways prosecutors might use these nasty little secrets to undermine the "students' right to a presumption of innocence."
"It will be especially hard for them to contend that they had no intent to infringe anyone's copyright when their own university terminated their access to the Internet," he writes.
Put into a larger context, Loyola's moves in this case appear downright appalling. Senators, strong-willed universities and ISPs have asked that the RIAA itself be placed under the microscope. Unlike Loyola, numerous groups question whether or not the RIAA's tactics fit the crime of file-trading. They want to take a closer look at the RIAA's legal methods before the subpoena barrage continues and, in some cases, have asked a court to do so.
For a long while, the RIAA managed to convince the public that its crusade was justified. The tide, however, is turning against the music-label mob as a wave of rational thought builds against them. Loyola's behavior is the exception not the rule these days.
Officials at the school may muster some courage in the weeks ahead. But let's hope the damage has not already been done.
"Loyola is apparently the first university in the country to cave in to a subpoena requesting the identification of students for purposes of copyright enforcement. It is an unwelcome precedent," D'Amato closes. ®