Computer forensics is still a new field, and the laws aren’t quite that clear yet on which acts are considered legal and rightful. This has created quite a dilemma for the RIAA, whose fight against piracy involves unlicensed private investigators doing computer forensics work to discover the identities of suspected file-sharers.
The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth has recently filed two lawsuits against MediaSentry Inc., an unlicensed private investigation that often works for the Recording Industry Association of America or RIAA in the organization’s continued battle against copyright infringement. The first complaint was filed by a student from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor while the subsequent complaint was from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.
MediaSentry is under SafeNet Incorporated, a firm that supposedly offers online content distribution and protection services to large entertainment and media companies. Both lawsuits filed against MediaSentry focused on the firm’s lack of license to operate as a private investigation company.
According to the Assistant General of Central Michigan University, the school was mainly concerned about how some of its students could have been subjected to “potentially illegal” investigations conducted by the said company. The university’s director of media relations, Steve Smith, further explains that the university only wishes to ensure that all information gathered against its students had been obtained through legal means and by a legally licensed establishment. It is also their hope that the RIAA would only engage the service of a legally licensed establishment for obtaining such information in the future, consequently ensuring that all subpoenas served have been properly obtained.
In the first complaint, the unnamed plaintiff described the investigation he had been subjected to by MediaSentry as “intrusive and illegal”. The nature of activities and the extent to which the company had performed its investigation were detailed in the lawsuit, with the student further claiming that all those actions had been taken to determine his identity, his online activities, and the nature and content of files in his computer. The letter concluded that only a private investigator was qualified to perform such activities, and for that, a license to operate as private investigator was required from MediaSentry.
These lawsuits can considerably weaken the standing of the RIAA in its copyright infringement cases. If any of the lawsuits goes against them, they may not be permitted to use the evidence gathered by MediaSentry in court. Worse, the results of these lawsuits could influence the outcome of other similar cases that MediaSentry, and to a certain extent the RIAA as well, is facing in other states like North Carolina, Oregon, and Massachusetts.
image credits to sxc.hu