The Record Industry Association of America’s plan to round up music-swapping college students and sue them has been going smoothly in some parts of the country, and hitting snags in others. A federal judge in New Mexico dealt the process a major blow Wednesday by denying the RIAA the subpoenas necessary to discover the names of 16 alleged violators at the University of New Mexico, Ars Technica reported.
Up until now, the association’s tactic has been to collect the IP addresses of illegal file-sharers, bring the addresses to court for subpoenas, and use the court-ordered subpoenas to access ISP records, allowing them to match real names to the otherwise anonymous addresses. Judge Lorenzo F. Garcia shut the process down at step two on the grounds that issuing a subpoena for a person who has yet to be identified strips that person of his or her right to fight the subpoena in the first place. College students who have had their Internet records unknowingly pried from the hands of ISPs have lost their right to fight the RIAA’s access to that information.
Although the 16 students at the University of New Mexico may eventually be notified of the subpoenas using the university as a middleman, the real significance of the case might be increased difficulty the RIAA could face everywhere if Judge Garcia’s ruling is repeated other places in the country. The RIAA strategy depends on the fact that many defendants will fold and pay up before the case even reaches the legal system, and that those who do not will be easy legal targets. A change in the legal landscape could make the process no longer worth pursuing.