- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

A federal judge ruled yesterday that an Internet-service provider must reveal the name of a subscriber suspected of illegally downloading hundreds of digital music files.
The decision by U.S. District Court Judge John Bates could significantly strengthen the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) efforts to reduce file sharing on peer-to-peer sites, such as Kazaa and Grokster. File sharing is illegal because it violates copyrights but the practice is also wildly popular.
About 2.6 billion digital movie and music files are downloaded every month.
Verizon Communications Inc., the Internet-service provider sued by the recording industry, said it will appeal the decision.
"Now that the court has ordered Verizon to live up to its obligation under the law, we look forward to contacting the account holder whose identity we were seeking so we can let them know that what they are doing is illegal," RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement.
Judge Bates said the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives the RIAA, which represents the industry's major record labels, the authority to force Verizon's Internet-services division to hand over the name of a subscriber suspected of engaging in file sharing.
Privacy advocates and Internet-service providers teamed up to oppose copyright holders, including the recording industry and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in the lawsuit.
Critics of yesterday's decision said it will erode privacy rights by giving all copyright holders the power to determine a person's identity without having to prove a copyright-infringement charge.
The recording industry obtained a subpoena in July demanding that Verizon name a customer the RIAA said was infringing on the copyrights of recording artists. Verizon didn't name the subscriber because it said the music files would be found on the user's hard drive, not the company's servers. When Verizon refused to comply with the subpoena, the RIAA sued the Internet provider.
The judge said Verizon's interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is intended to protect copyrights on digital material, would allow a "significant amount of copyright infringement" to be shielded from the law.
"That would, in effect, give Internet copyright infringers shelter from the long arm of the [1998 copyright act] subpoena power and allow infringement to flourish," the judge wrote in his 37-page decision.
Under the law, copyright owners can obtain a subpoena from any U.S. District Court clerk's office without a judge's order to identify suspected pirates.
The RIAA has obtained subpoenas 95 times to get the names of subscribers from various Internet-service providers, 94 times without incident, an RIAA spokesman said. This time, Verizon objected to the request.
File sharing lets Internet users download digital copies of millions of songs almost effortlessly from computer servers. More than 160 million copies of Kazaa's file sharing software have been downloaded. The specific file-sharer the RIAA is trying to stop has traded more than 600 music files, according to the recording industry.
Verizon condemned the decision yesterday.
"The court's decision opens the door for anyone who makes a mere allegation of copyright infringement to gain complete access to private subscriber information without the due-process protections afforded by the courts," said Sarah B. Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon.
Miss Deutsch said Verizon would not shield customers who break copyright laws, but that it wants to protect the privacy and due-process rights of Internet users.
If upheld, the judge's decision would give the recording industry more leverage in its fight against file-sharing services because it would affirm its ability to obtain names of file-sharers, send them warning letters ordering them to stop sharing music files of copyrighted material, and to take legal action.
The recording industry has been hurt by a slump in CD sales, and it attributes that partly to piracy from file sharing.
The MPAA, also concerned about piracy, applauded the judge's decision.
"The court properly recognized the clear congressional intent of providing an expedited procedure for identifying infringers on the Internet," the MPAA said in a statement.
Privacy experts were aghast at the recording industry's legal victory.
"It puts too much power without any judicial oversight in the hands of purported copyright holders. The essence of the interpretation of the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] is that there is no privacy," said Megan Gray, a lawyer who filed briefs in the lawsuit on behalf of civil liberties groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The judge could have adopted a mechanism to protect the identity of Internet subscribers until they were found guilty of violating copyright laws by sharing files, said Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"The thing that worries me is that the court abdicated its responsibility to ensure that only the identities get turned over of those people who actually are copyright infringers," she said. "I think the judge got it wrong."

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