RealTime IT News

SBC Fights Back Against RIAA

SBC Communications fired a shot Wednesday in the acrimonious battle between file-swapping consumers and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

In a suit filed with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Pacific Bell Internet, which sells SBC dialup and broadband services in California, claimed that the spate of RIAA subpoenas demanding the e-mail addresses of customers sharing multiple files were filed improperly.

But that's just one legal tactic, SBC spokesperson Larry Meyer told internetNews.com. Meyer said that SBC believes that the RIAA subpoenas to Internet service providers (ISPs) are a misuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

"As such, it allows anyone to obtain a subpoena asking for private information about any Internet user without any kind of review by a judge or court," Meyer said, noting that the subpoenas raise serious constitutional questions.

"These questions shouldn't be decided by private companies that operate without due diligence or judicial oversight," he said.

Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain has said his committee would look into a similar case being fought by Verizon . The New York-based communications giant is fighting a legal battle to avoid complying with a RIAA subpoena. A court order filed by the record industry requested the name of a Verizon Internet subscriber who allegedly downloaded more than 600 copyrighted music files in a single day.

Arguments are set for September 16 in dispute between Verizon and the RIAA. The RIAA won a separate court decision forcing Verizon to reveal the names of two subscribers the RIAA suspects of illegally downloading copyrighted songs. Verizon has said it will go back into court to appeal.

Meantime, SBC has cooperated with entities claiming copyright infringement on Web sites that it hosts, quickly shutting down the sites. For example, on February 4, the Church of Scientology International notified SBC attorney Keith Epstein that PacBell Internet customer Kevin A. Burton had posted hundreds of unauthorized photos, books, tapes and tape transcripts. Another of Burton's Web sites states," I personally believe that being intellectually open, to the point of promiscuity, not only helps further technology and society, but is an ethical issue as well."

Internet users seem apathetic to RIAA's legal maneuvers. In fact, according to a report issued Thursday by the Pew Internet Project, two-thirds of the 26 million adults in the U.S. who share files online don't care whether the files are copyrighted or not.

Meyer told internetNews.com, "The intent of our suit is to put it before the appropriate judicial body for review," he said, "so that privacy rights can be balanced fairly with copyright interests."

Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told internetNews.com that she applauded SBC and Verizon for taking a stand. "They're really doing the right thing," she said. "It's in their business interest to protect the privacy of their customers, but still, they don't have to do this."

Cohn said the RIAA had gone "forum-shopping," finding one court in the District of Columbia that was willing to issue the subpoenas.

"It shouldn't work that way," she said. "People are only required to respond to their local courts. PacBell is in California, and the idea that they could be required to respond to a DC subpoena is wrong."

The EFF has set up a database where people can look up their screen names to see if their ISP has been subpoenaed. Unfortunately, Cohn said, the courts are way behind in providing this information, so the site is not up to date. The EFF also participates in the Subpoena Defense Alliance, which posts a lists of resources for people in the RIAA's sights.

Cohn said that despite the laudable efforts of SBC and Verizon to protect their customers, no one on the RIAA's hit list should expect to huddle under an ISP's protection.

Step one, she said, "Find a lawyer."