Bush Backs RIAA Lawsuit Against Verizon

The Justice Department filed court documents Friday supporting the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) lawsuit against Verizon Internet Services, putting the Bush administration clearly on the side of the RIAA in its ongoing legal battles to stop illegal file sharing.

Invoking the subpoena power of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the RIAA is attempting to force Verizon to turn over the name of a subscriber who allegedly downloaded more than 600 copyrighted music files in a single day. Under the DMCA, subpoenas can be issued without a judge’s signature.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ruled in January Verizon must comply with the RIAA subpoena, but the telecom giant has appealed the decision. The RIAA, though, has insisted that Verizon not only immediately turn over the name of the alleged infringer and has additionally issued two more subpoenas demanding Verizon finger more accused infringers.

Verizon has moved to quash the new subpoenas and Bates has decided to consolidate the cases.

The RIAA in August asked a federal district court in Washington, D.C., to enforce the original 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 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.”

Verizon lawyer John Thorne has expanded Verizon’s legal defense to a constitutional review of the DMCA, particularly the subpoena power provision of the 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 DMCA subpoena can compel an Internet service provider (ISP) to turn over the name, telephone number and address of a subscriber.

In its Friday filing, the Justice Department said the subpoena power of the DMCA is constitutional.

A number of Internet service providers and privacy groups have joined with Verizon to fight the RIAA subpoena.

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