Verizon to Sing on Accused Music Pirates

Verizon will comply with a Wednesday court order and turn over to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) the names of four Internet subscribers accused of illegally downloading copyrighted music. The RIAA has not said what legal action may be taken against the accused pirates.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals Wednesday to force Verizon to reveal the names marks a major victory for the RIAA in its ongoing legal battle against music piracy and sets the stage for a likely Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the subpoena power of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

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 court clerk merely confirms a form has been properly fill out alleging copyright infringement.

The RIAA became the first to test the DMCA subpoena clause last August when it used the controversial provision to seek the names from Verizon of those they suspected were illegally downloading music through the telcom’s Internet service.

Verizon, which routinely complies with “John Doe” subpoenas issued by a judge, refused to comply with the DMCA subpoena, arguing it didn’t think it 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. Verizon also contended the RIAA’s action violated the First Amendment right to anonymity and privacy rights of Internet users.

In January, a U.S. District Court ruled in the RIAA’s favor and ordered Verizon to turn over the names. Since then, Verizon has been seeking a stay in order to protect the names while the company appeals the decision. In April, U.S. District Judge John Bates rejected Verizon’s stay request but granted a temporary stay until the Court of Appeals could decide the matter.

Wednesday’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals affects only the stay provision of the District Court order. While Verizon will turn over the names, it will also pursue its appeal of the underlying January decision on the constitutionality of the subpoena clause of the DMCA.

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