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MIT Names Student As Alleged Infringer

By Keith J. Winstein


MIT answered a subpoena from the record industry last night, naming Claudiu A. Prisnel ’06 in response to the industry association’s request for the name of a network user who, on June 27 from a computer at Theta Delta Chi, allegedly offered hundreds of music recordings over the KaZaA file-trading system, according to Prisnel and James D. Bruce, the vice president for information systems.

Prisnel, a member of Theta Delta Chi, denies that he is the “alleged infringer” identified by the association’s subpoena and says he has been wrongly accused.

“Between the dates of May 25, 2003 and August 25, 2003 I have been travelling in Europe,” he wrote to MIT attorney Mark DiVincenzo in an Aug. 30 letter to protest the release of his name, according to a copy of the letter he provided The Tech. “In particular, on June 27, at the time of the alleged infringement, I was in Romania.”

Prisnel, who is Romanian, showed a reporter copies of immigration documents and airplane tickets that appear to support his account. His friend Olga Y. Stroilova ’06, who traveled with him over the summer, also confirmed his assertions.

Prisnel says he has never owned a computer in the United States, a fact to which 20 other students signed a statement attesting on his behalf. And, Prisnel wrote to DiVincenzo, “I have never used or been affiliated with the user name ‘crazyface@KaZaA,’” which was identified by the record industry association, known as the RIAA, as the KaZaA account used.

Citing the federal law of educational privacy, Bruce and DiVincenzo declined to discuss most details of MIT’s investigation and response to the subpoena. TDC officers did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The RIAA last night had only limited comment. “Anyone is free to contact us to discuss any particular issues, or they can present their defenses in court,” said Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the association.

MIT’s reply, which was not made public, ends a process that began July 2, when the RIAA first issued to MIT a subpoena requesting the identity of “crazyface.”

The reply came on the same day that the record industry announced it would file lawsuits against 261 people named by their Internet service providers in response to RIAA subpoenas in the last several months.

Early March registration led to ID

MIT attorneys have decided the Institute is legally compelled to name Prisnel to the RIAA as the “alleged infringer,” Bruce said, despite Prisnel’s documentation that he does not own a computer and was out of the country for the months surrounding the alleged infringement.

An MIT investigation found that on March 3, 2003, Prisnel registered for use on MIT’s network the same computer that was eventually used four months later for the allegedly illegal conduct, according to a document from the MIT investigation provided by Prisnel.

“We’re not trying to screw the guy,” Bruce said. “When we respond to the subpoena, we’re not asserting that this is the owner of the machine,” he said. “We’re representing, ‘This is the information that was presented at the time the machine was registered.’”

“For example, you might have registered a machine, and given that machine, sold that machine to another MIT student,” Bruce said. “Unless that person goes to inordinate lengths to re-register the machine, it’s still going to have your registration.”

Prisnel said the fact that the computer was registered four months prior in his name does not mean he is the “alleged infringer” whose identity is sought by the RIAA. Because he does not own a computer, he said, he sometimes borrowed computers during the last school year, when Prisnel lived in New House, from his fraternity brothers.

Because of the way MIT’s registration process works, a computer that has not yet been registered for use on MIT’s network -- which includes New House, but does not include TDC -- that tries to obtain an Internet address to use the World Wide Web will instead automatically display a registration form asking for an MIT username and password.

Prisnel said he does not remember if he borrowed a computer in early March, or if he ever completed the registration process, but that it is possible he borrowed a computer from a TDC resident, plugged it in at New House, and completed the registration screen that was displayed when he tried to access a Web page, later returning the computer to its owner.

If not Prisnel, the actual owner of the infringing computer remains unknown.

The computer appears to have been since removed from the TDC network. The MIT network equipment that serves TDC last night reported no computers using the address registered by Prisnel.

MIT explained data reliability

“MIT’s disclosure had damn well better be careful,” said Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School. “You don’t say, ‘We have identified the infringer.’ You say, ‘Our records show the following.’”

Bruce said that MIT’s response to the RIAA would include an explanation about whether the information MIT was able to uncover indeed identifies an “alleged infringer.”

“There are situations, and we recognize them, where the name we would associate with the particular [computer] ... is incorrect,” Bruce said. “What we have said to the RIAA is that all we’re doing is saying, ‘This is the credential that was presented when this computer was registered on the network.’”

“That, in effect, is all the RIAA has asked us to do,” Bruce said. “Even though they use language, like ‘alleged infringer,’ we can’t even come close to closing that gap, although the RIAA would like to be able to cause the ISP to have to,” he said.

“There are a number of logs in the system, and so it’s conceivable that there may be other data that we have that would be of interest,” Bruce said.

MIT’s response may include a statement from Prisnel contesting the accuracy of MIT’s response. “What Prisnel is trying to do is present evidence that he didn’t own a machine at MIT,” Bruce said. “My understanding is a student has a right to amend a record about himself or herself, and including a statement that says portions of the record are in error is one way to amend the record.”

“I think we’re trying to go as far as we possibly can,” Bruce said.

Prisnel is the second user MIT’s investigation has internally identified as the “alleged infringer.” Earlier in the summer, the MIT investigation identified a “young lady from the summer,” who was not a student at MIT, living at TDC during an internship program, Bruce said, before focusing on Prisnel.