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.

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