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Fight erupts in N.Y. over RIAA efforts to nab music pirates

State law says those digging up evidence need private investigator's license

February 5, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A New York judge is being asked to decide whether a company that gathers evidence on behalf of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in illegal file-sharing cases should be required to have a private investigator's license in order to do so.

The issue, which has come up in the past, is being raised again in a case involving Rolando Amurao, who has been charged by Lava Records LLC and other music recording labels with illegally distributing 528 copyrighted music files over the Limewire peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing network. The case is being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

A motion filed by Amurao's attorney, Richard Altman, on Jan. 28 asked the court to exclude evidence and testimony against Amurao that was gathered by Belcamp, Md.-based Media Sentry Inc. In his motion, Altman said that Media Sentry had illegally collected information about his client because it did not have a private investigator's license, as required by state law.

"Plaintiffs proceed in these copyright infringement cases based upon evidence of file-sharing or distribution derived from investigations conducted by Safenet, Inc., a private company operating under the name of Media Sentry," Altman's motion stated.

Basically, Media Sentry searches file-sharing networks looking for individuals sharing music files and identifying the IP addresses associated with the activity, Altman said. Internet service providers are then asked via a court subpoena to identify the individual to whom the IP address is assigned to. "That person then becomes the putative defendant and is sued, on the assumption that he or she is responsible for all activity occurring with that IP address, and that any music files which are available on the computer are infringing copies," Altman said.

The work performed by Media Sentry and SafeNet on behalf of the recording labels requires a private investigator's license in the state of New York, Altman said. Doing such work without such a license constitutes a misdemeanor subject to criminal penalties, he noted. "Accordingly, their testimony and evidence, being obtained in violation of New York law, should be excluded," he said.

In an interview with Computerworld, Altman said that under New York law, a private investigator is someone whose activities can include checking out an individual's identity, habits and movements or collecting evidence to be used in a court. That work requires a license, unless it's being done by the police and, under certain conditions, those working for lawyers he said. "This is a private company. So I've asked their evidence be excluded," he said

There is a possibility that Lava will drop the case and go after Amurao's daughter before the motion is ruled on, Altman added. He noted that he plans to file the exact same motion today in another RIAA copyright infringement case being heard in New York.

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