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Complaints filed in Michigan over RIAA's piracy investigators

MediaSentry's papers may not be in order

August 12, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A company that is regularly used by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to gather evidence against individuals in copyright infringement cases is coming under increasing fire for operating without a private investigator's license as required by many states.

The latest trouble for MediaSentry Inc. comes in the form of two recent and nearly identical complaints filed against it with the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG).

One of the complaints was filed last week by Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. The university is asking the state agency to compel MediaSentry to cease all copyright-related investigations of Michigan residents until it obtains a license to operate as a private investigator in the state. The other complaint, which asks for the same action, was filed in June by an unnamed student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

News of the complaints, along with links, was first published last week by Recording Industry vs. The People, a blog that specializes in covering the RIAA's crackdown against alleged copyright infringers. According to the blog, there are now at least three complaints filed on the same grounds against MediaSentry in Michigan alone. The first one was filed by a Michigan resident in February.

Both of the recent complaints against the Belcamp, Md.-based MediaSentry alleged the company was investigating Michigan individuals without being licensed to do so. MediaSentry, which bills itself as a provider of online content-protection services, is owned by SafeNet Inc., a company that claims to provide online content protection and distribution services for large media and entertainment companies.

In a letter accompanying last week's complaint, Central Michigan University's assistant general counsel said that the university has in the past been served subpoenas requesting the personal information of certain students who had been the subject of "potentially illegal" investigations by MediaSentry. According to that letter, MediaSentry's investigations had resulted in copyright infringement charges being leveled against the students by the RIAA.

The university's letter also noted that as far back as February, Michigan's DLEG had informed MediaSentry that its activities might be in violation of state laws and had instructed it to obtain a license if the company planned on continuing its investigative activities in the state. But so far, MediaSentry appears not to have obtained a private investigator's license in the state and has been continuing its "unlicensed and illegal" actions in Michigan, the letter noted.

Steve Smith, CMU's director of media relations said the complaint was prompted by the university's desire to ensure that the subpoenas being served on students was based on information that had been obtained by a legally licensed entity in the state. The hope in filing the complaint is that the RIAA will engage a licensed company to do its investigations so "we can be confident that the subpoena has been properly obtained," he said. All subpoenas that the university has received from the RIAA so far have been served, he added.

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