Court: Verizon Must Reveal Name of Alleged Online Pirate

In a significant victory for the music industry in its ongoing legal battle with file-swapping services, a U.S. district court Tuesday ruled Verizon must comply with a subpoena by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) requesting the name of a subscriber who allegedly made available more than 600 copyrighted music files over the Internet.

Within hours, Verizon announced it would appeal the decision, saying the ruling “will have a chilling effect on private communications, such as e-mail, surfing the Internet or the sending of files between private parties.”

Citing provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the RIAA in August asked a federal district court in Washington, D.C., to enforce the subpoena, which seeks information related to “a computer connected to the Verizon network that is a hub for significant music piracy.” The motion said Verizon is the only entity that can identify the infringer behind the computer.

Verizon had refused to comply with the subpoena, arguing it didn’t think the subpoena request met the circumstances that the DMCA allows for in compelling information in order to protect against piracy. Verizon contended the subpoena related to material transmitted over Verizon’s network, but not stored on it, and thus fell outside the scope of the subpoena power authorized in the DMCA.

In ruling in the RIAA’s favor, the court concluded, “that the subpoena power … applies to all Internet service providers within the scope of the DMCA, not just to those service providers storing information on a system or network at the direction of a user.”

Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, said, “We appreciate the court’s decision, which validates our interpretation of the law. The illegal distribution of music on the Internet is a serious issue for musicians, songwriters and other copyright owners, and the record companies have made great strides in addressing this problem by educating consumers and providing them with legitimate alternatives.”

Sherman added, “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.”

In announcing it would appeal the decision, Sarah B. Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon, said, “The court’s decision has troubling ramifications for consumers, service providers and the growth of the Internet. It 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.”

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