WASHINGTON — The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has issued more than 1,000 subpoenas in its wide-ranging crackdown on illegal file-sharing, according to information released Monday by U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman (R.-Minn.). The RIAA says the subpoenas were issued for only the most prolific of file swappers.
The RIAA provided the information as part of a response to Coleman’s request for subpoenas and other documents related to his concerns that the industry was taking a “shotgun” approach to identifying and prosecuting potential violators.
In releasing the 11-page response from RIAA President and General Counsel Cary H. Sherman, Coleman said he was “gratified” by assurances that the industry is initially focusing on “egregious offenders who are engaging in substantial amounts of illegal activity.”
Coleman also said that the RIAA has promised to provide his Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations with supplementary documents that “confirm it is not targeting nominal users.”
In a letter to the RIAA earlier this month, Coleman said the RIAA may be in danger of abusing the broad-based subpoena authority it recently won in court to determine the extent of illegal file sharing in the U.S. and that its tactics may be creating “anxiety and concern” among many Americans who are “innocent or unknowingly guilty of violating copyright infringement laws.”
According to Coleman, an analysis of the RIAA documents submitted to his subcommittee on Aug. 14 “clearly reaffirms” the industry’s legitimate concerns over the “devastating economic impact of illegal file-sharing and copyright infringement.”
But Coleman said he remains concerned about the potential for abuse of the subpoena process established in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and making sure the punishment for violators fits the crime. After an initial review of the RIAA documents, Coleman announced his intention to broaden his inquiry into how peer-to-peer file sharing networks operate. The hearings to be held in the near future will examine the criminal penalties for file-sharing and the consumer protection issues involved in the usage of peer-to-peer networks.
Citing provisions in the DMCA, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ruled in January Verizon had to comply with an RIAA subpoena requesting the name of a Verizon Internet subscriber who allegedly downloaded more than 600 copyrighted music files in a single day.
Verizon immediately appealed the decision and asked Bates to stay his January ruling in hopes of maintaining the status quo until the appeal process is resolved. In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia supported the RIAA and forced Verizon to turn over the name. The case itself remains under appeal and is scheduled to be heard on Sept. 16.
Since then, the RIAA has issued a blizzard of the DMCA subpoenas. Unlike a usual subpoena, which requires some underlying claim of a crime and must be signed by a judge or magistrate, under the DMCA a subpoena can be issued by a court clerk without presenting evidence of a crime being committed.
The DMCA subpoena can compel an Internet service provider (ISP) to turn over the name, telephone number and address of a subscriber.