Complaints filed over RIAA's piracy investigators

Trouble for Media Sentry Inc.

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 Investigators' license as required by many states.

The latest trouble for Media Sentry 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. That filing asks the state agency to compel Media Sentry 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 Media Sentry in Michigan alone. The first one was filed by a Michigan resident in February.

Both of the recent complaints against the Belcamp, Md.-based Media Sentry alleged the company was investigating Michigan individuals without being licensed to do so. Media Sentry, which bills itself as a provider of online content-protection services, is owned by SafeNet, 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 Media Sentry. According to that letter, Media Sentry'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 Media Sentry 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 Media Sentry appears not to have obtained a private investigators 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 the university has received from the RIAA so far have been served, he added.

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