Charter Joins RIAA Litigation Parade

Charter Communications , the nation’s third largest cable provider, is the latest Internet service provider (ISP) to sue the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) over the music industry’s use of the subpoena powers in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

St. Louis-based Charter wants a U.S. district court to quash the approximately 150 subpoenas the RIAA is seeking from Charter to reveal the names of subscribers who allegedly downloaded and then shared copyrighted music through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.

Verizon and SBC Communications have already gone to court to try to stop the subpoenas filed against their Internet subscribers. SBC has yet to have a hearing on the matter while Verizon lost in district court and is appealing the decision. In addition, several individuals named in the subpoenas have gone to court against the RIAA.

While Verizon and SBC have turned over the names requested by the RIAA while they seek relief in court, Charter has refused to do so. Tom Hearity, vice president and associate general counsel for Charter, said Friday his company has not released a “single datum of information” to the RIAA.

On Sept. 8, the RIAA filed 261 infringement suits with all of the names obtained through more than 1,600 DMCA subpoenas, which allow copyright holders to issue subpoenas to ISPs demanding the name, address and telephone numbers of ISP subscribers suspected of illegally downloading copyrighted material.

Unlike usual subpoenas, DMCA 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.

Last week, the RIAA announced another 63 people settled the copyright infringement suits. All were accused of illegally downloading more than 1,000 songs through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. The amount of the settlements were not disclosed by the RIAA, but an earlier settlement with the parents of a 12-year-old accused of illegally downloading music files was $2,000.

Of the 64 total settlements, according to the RIAA, 12 were pre-litigation, meaning individuals who were identified as offering significant amounts of music files and had their information subpoenaed from their ISP, but not had been sued.

Additionally, the RIAA said it received 838 affidavits for its “Clean Slate” program, which offers amnesty to P2P network users who voluntarily identify themselves and pledge to stop illegally sharing music on the Internet. The amnesty program has been attacked as misleading and in California, a lawsuit has been filed claiming the program is a deceptive trade practice.

One suit against a 66-year-old Boston grandmother, accused of downloading more than 2,000 songs, was dropped when it was disclosed her only computer is a Macintosh, which is incapable of running the P2P network software she was accused of using to pilfer such songs as rapper Trick Daddy’s “I’m a Thug.”

Another suit is being contested on the constitutionality of DMCA subpoenas. The attorney for a New York woman known only by her online name of “NYCfashiongirl,” claims the RIAA violated state and federal laws in securing her online name and IP address through its search P2P networks looking for possible music pirates.

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