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MIT Lawyers to Respond To Subpoena Over Tupac

By Waseem S. Daher


Tupac may be dead, but his lawyers are not. On Dec. 10, MIT received a subpoena from Paramount Pictures asking who is responsible for an MIT computer that allegedly distributed illegal copies of the film “Tupac: Resurrection.”

The Internet address provided by Paramount belongs to a computer at the headquarters of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The studio said it was able to download an unauthorized copy of the film at 1:40 a.m. on Dec. 4, and has asked MIT to identify the person responsible.

MIT’s deadline to respond is tomorrow, Jan. 15. The senior counsel for intellectual property, Ann M. Hammersla, said the Institute’s lawyers are still planning a response. “We’re working on it. It’s still under discussion,” she said. “We are considering all possibilities.”

MIT person unlikely to be at fault

The subpoena says that Paramount was able to download the film over Internet Relay Chat from the Internet Protocol address, a computer in 2-190, the Course I headquarters.

Patricia A. Dixon, a Course I administrative officer listed as the computer’s contact, declined to discuss the matter.

Based on the IRC “nickname” of the alleged trader (“BJ-XDCC1063”) and the time of day, it appears unlikely that a real person was present at the department headquarters to send the film to Paramount.

A more likely scenario is that the computer was remotely compromised by someone who then used it as a middleman to share the content via IRC. “That’s being considered,” said Timothy J. McGovern, the StopIt and Information Technology policy coordinator.

Paramount’s lawyer handling the subpoena did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Verizon ruling no help to MIT

How MIT plans to respond is still a mystery, even though the deadline is tomorrow. (MIT obtained an extension from the original deadline of Dec. 17.)

One thing that is almost certain is that the Dec. 19 decision of a federal appeals court, striking down some subpoenas, will not help MIT in this case.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998 grants copyright owners the power, in some situations, to subpoena Internet service providers for the identity of users trading copyrighted works without authorization.

The Washington, D.C., federal appeals court’s decision held that a DMCA subpoena cannot force Internet service providers to disclose the contact information of their subscribers if the alleged infringing material is hosted on computers not belonging to the ISP.

The decision, had it been made earlier in 2003, would have given MIT the right not to release the contact information of Claudiu A. Prisnel ’06, whose name MIT disclosed to the Recording Industry Association of America as the “alleged infringer” who offered hundreds of songs over the KaZaA file-trading network through MIT’s network. (Prisnel was not sued and was not contacted by the RIAA, he said.)

But the court’s decision seems not to aid MIT in its current situation, since the machine is an MIT-owned computer.

“Our working hypothesis right now is that [the decision] is not relevant, because the machine is owned by MIT,” McGovern said. “That’s the current interpretation. A lot of this stuff is still under discussion,” he said.

“Tupac: Resurrection,” a film about the rap star’s life, was released on Nov. 14, 2003. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave “Tupac: Resurrection” 3.5/4 stars.