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In re Subpoena to Univ. of North Carolina

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Citation Edit

In re Subpoena to Univ. of North Carolina, 367 F.Supp.2d 945, 74 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1661 (M.D.N.C. 2005) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

Through tracking programs, the RIAA ascertained the IP addresses and user names of the two students who are allegedly infringing copyrighted material using peer-to-peer (P2P) programs. However, the IP addresses did not identify the students themselves, because IP addresses only identify the internet service provider (ISP) providing internet access. In this case, the students’ ISPs were the universities in which they were enrolled.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

To find out who the students were, the RIAA invoked the DMCA’s subpoena power. That is, the RIAA obtained subpoenas from a federal District Court in North Carolina, requiring the universities to disclose their students’ identities.

After receiving notification from their universities about the subpoenas, each student intervened and the cases were consolidated. Before the RIAA got the information it sought, the students filed a successful motion to quash the subpoenas.

Judge Russell Eliason found that the universities function only as a conduit for their allegedly infringing students, because they provide their students only with internet access but not with storage capabilities. Since the DMCA authorizes subpoenas only where “an ISP was storing, caching, or providing links to copyrighted material,” Judge Eliason concluded that the universities fell outside the DMCA’s subpoena power.

Judge Eliason also stated that “a requirement of issuing subpoenas under the DMCA is an ISP’s ability to remove or disable a user’s access to infringing material.” Since the universities could not remove or disable a P2P user’s access to infringing material on another P2P user’s computer, both universities escaped the RIAA’s subpoenas under the DMCA.

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