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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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May 13, 2005

St. Lawrence Univ. Abuses Copyright Law to Determine Identity of Anonymous Bloggers

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Posted by Ernest Miller

According to Inside Higher Ed, St. Lawrence University (Founded April 3, 1856; oldest continuously coeducational institution of higher learning in New York State) has, in a stunning blow against freedom of speech, launched a lawsuit to determine the identities of a group of anonymous bloggers critical of the school (Cloaked in Cyberspace). See also, Central New York Business Journal, SLU Tries to Flush Out Naysayers With Copyright Suit.

The blog, Take Back Our Campus!, hasn't been updated since April 4, 2005, but is highly critical of St. Lawrence University, members of its faculty and students. The blog is frequently offensive and sophomoric, but then again, isn't this sort of thing how sophomores got their name?

In any case, it is odd that a university would launch a lawsuit to determine the identity of the anonymous bloggers. Hello? Freedom of speech. Nevertheless, I can understand that some speech might beyond the pale (that is why not all speech is protected by the First Amendment). So, what is even stranger, is the method through which the university seeks to determine the identities of the bloggers. The university hasn't launched a libel suit or something similar. The university is making specious claims of copyright infringement.

Read on for highlights from the complaint...

Read the complaint here: St. Lawrence Univ. v. John Does 1-4

1. This is a civil action seeking damages and injunctive relief for copyright infringement under the copyright laws of the United States, including 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. ....

9. The University Website includes photographs of D. M.L. Petty, a St. Lawrence administrator (the "Petty Photograph"), Dr. Steven Horwitz, a St. Lawrence faculty member (the "Horwitz Photograph"), Dr. Margaret Kent Bass, a St. Lawrence faculty member (the "Bass Photograph"), and Dr. Daniel F. Sullivan, President of St. Lawrence University (the "Sullivan Photograph") (collectively, the Petty Photograph, the Horwitz Photograph, the Bass Photograph and the Sullivan Photograph are the "Protected Photographs").

10. The Protected Photographs are the subject of copyright applications forwarded to the U.S. Copyright Office on January 18, 2005, with the appropriate filing fees and deposits....

12. The TBOC Website publishes crude pseudonymous critiques of St. Lawrence University, its faculty, staff and students. The majority of the material published on the TBOC Website, upon information and belief, is provided by one or more of the Defendants. The published material frequently is profance, attacks individuals' religious beliefs, attacks individuals' academic credentials and abilities and falsely impugns the motives of various members of the St. Lawrence University faculty, administration or student body. The individuals depicted in the Protected Photographs are among the individuals whose motives, religious beliefs, academic credentials and/or abilities have been attacked. [All this information is relevant to a copyright lawsuit, why?]

13. On or about December 18, 2004, John Doe #1, identified only as "collars_down," posted a message on the TBOC Website, which includes an infringing copy of the Petty Photograph and makes disparaging statements about Dr. Petty. .... [more photos and disparagement follow] ....

16. On or about January 5, 2005, John Doe #4, identified only as "Christian Evangelist," posted a messge on the TBOC Website, which included an infringing copy of the Sullivan Photograph that has been superimposed with an image of a liquor bottle and images of unclothed or partially clothed women.

Copyright infringement as censorship tool. Gee, say it ain't so. See, The Importance Of..., An Engine of Censorship.

In addition to the lawsuit, the university has also blocked access to the blog's IP address from the campus network. Geez. See, Take Back Our Campus, New Sullivan Memo to Faculty and Staff, citing a memo from the university president:

The revisions to the Acceptable Use Policy most important to call to your attention have to do with clarifying necessary rights the University must retain as the owner of our computing resources; giving greater weight than in our former policy to the right of others to be free from intimidation, harassment and unwarranted annoyance; including among prohibited uses those "which violate University policy;" and permitting the President to authorize access to personal files not only in response to a judicial order or other action required by law, but "when access is considered necessary to protect and/or promote the legitimate interests of the University."

In addition, I want you to know that we have blocked access to a web site that was persistently harassing and intimidating specific members of the St. Lawrence community.

Once again, the blog is offensive. However, abusing copyright law in order to obtain the identities of anonymous bloggers is simply wrong. St. Lawrence University ought to be ashamed.

via The Huffington Post

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Abuse


1. Anonymous on May 13, 2005 10:49 AM writes...

"The blog is frequently offensive and sophomoric, but then again, isn't this sort of thing how sophomores got their name?"

Not really, though it's a commonly held belief. See e.g.

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2. Neo on May 13, 2005 12:25 PM writes...


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3. Ernest Miller on May 13, 2005 12:33 PM writes...

Which link is 404?

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4. Neo on May 13, 2005 11:31 PM writes...

That link.

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5. Anonymous on May 14, 2005 2:42 AM writes...

No, it works ok, I think you're just getting that trailing period in there. Sorry about that.

Try it again:

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