RealTime IT News

Brownback Questions RIAA's Senate Testimony

U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.) said late Wednesday the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) decision to drop a copyright infringement lawsuit against a Boston grandmother calls into the question the RIAA's testimony last week before the Senate Commerce Committee that the music industry was not unfairly targeting alleged downloaders.

Sarah Seabury Ward was one of 261 people identified and sued by the RIAA through the controversial subpoena authority of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). RIAA President Cary Sherman told the Commerce Committee on September 17 that only people who had downloaded more than 1,000 copyrighted songs were targeted in the dragnet.

But on Friday, the RIAA withdrew its suit against 66-year-old Ward, who was accused of downloading more than 2,000 songs, in what the music trade group called a "gesture of good faith." Ward uses a Macintosh computer, which is incapable of running the peer-to-peer network software she was accused of using to pilfer such songs as rapper Trick Daddy's "I'm a Thug."

"This revelation challenges the testimony of the RIAA at the hearing, and shows that the subpoena process includes no due process for ISP subscribers' accused of digital piracy," Brownback said in a statement. "Due process, if it existed within the DMCA subpoena process, would provide accused pirates identified through the subpoena with the critical opportunity to rebut accusations of piracy and prevent the release of their identifying information to accusers."

The controversial 1998 DMCA allows copyright holders to issue subpoenas to Internet service providers (ISPs) demanding the name, address and telephone numbers of ISP subscribers suspected of illegally downloading copyrighted material. The subpoenas can be filed prior to any charges of infringement, are not subject to a review by a judge, and requires no notice to, or opportunity to be heard by, the alleged infringer.

The constitutionality of the subpoenas was heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Sept. 16 and Brownback introduced a bill requiring the owners of digital media products to file an actual case in a court of law in order to obtain the identifying information of an ISP subscriber. The legislation was met much lukewarm support, at best, from Brownback's colleagues.

"I call on my colleagues in the Senate to join with me in working to correct this threat to privacy and personal safety before we witness the use of non-judicially reviewed information subpoenas to more severe effect than an improper lawsuit," Brownback, chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, said.