High Court Bounces Latest RIAA Effort

The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected the music industry’s effort to revive
a controversial practice that briefly forced ISPs to
reveal the identities of thousands of accused peer-to-peer (P2P) music
pirates with no notice to the alleged infringers.

In denying a writ of certiorari to the Recording Industry Association of
America (RIAA), the court upheld a December 2003 decision by an appeals
court that reversed a lower court ruling ordering ISPs
(ISPs) to comply with the subpoena provision of the 1998 Digital Millennium
Copyright Act (DMCA).

Under the DMCA, a subpoena can be issued by a court clerk who only checks to
make sure the subpoena form is properly filled out. This differs from a standard subpoena,
which requires some underlying claim of a crime.

On the basis of the
lower court ruling, the RIAA issued more than 3,000 subpoena requests to
ISPs and filed almost 400 copyright infringement actions.

Verizon initially resisted complying with the DMCA subpoena requests filed
by the RIAA. A district court ruled in favor of the RIAA, but Verizon
ultimately prevailed. The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the DMCA did
not authorize copyright holders to obtain a subpoena requiring the release
of the name, address and telephone number of any Internet user based solely
upon the filing of a one-page form that had not been reviewed by a judge.

“Today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the personal privacy, First
Amendment rights to free speech and free association, and the safety of
every Internet user in this country,” Sarah Deutsch, vice president and
associate counsel for Verizon, said in a statement.

Deutsch, who argued Verizon’s case before the appeals court, added, “The
Supreme Court’s action is a victory for consumers, for the Internet and its
continued growth, and it marks the end of a dangerous and illegal subpoena
campaign that threatened the constitutional rights of all Americans.”

The RIAA responded with an e-mail comment from Stanley Pierre-Louis, senior vice president
of Legal Affairs.

“Today’s decision will not deter our ongoing anti-piracy
efforts. The ‘John Doe’ litigation process we have successfully utilized
this year continues to be an effective legal tool.”

Verizon originally argued that the DMCA subpoena only applied in cases where
an ISP stored the copyrighted material on its servers. Because people using
P2P networks store the material on their own hard drives, Verizon said it
was exempt from the DMCA subpoena. Verizon subsequently questioned
the actual constitutionality of the DMCA subpoena, privacy rights
violations, the potential dangers of the subpoena being misused by
non-copyright holders and even the future growth of the Internet.

“This decision means copyright holders and their representatives — or
identity thieves and stalkers posing as copyright holders — will not be
allowed to obtain personal information about Internet users by simply filing
a one-page form with a court clerk,” Deutsch said.

“The Supreme Court has
now finally shut a door that was otherwise left wide open to false
accusations, negligent mistakes, as well as to identity thieves and
stalkers, who could use the cursory subpoena process to obtain the name,
address, and telephone number of any Internet user in the country — without
the user even knowing about it.”

The December 2003 appeals court decision forced the RIAA to use the more
conventional “John Doe” subpoena request that requires a judge’s consent.
Using the John Doe subpoenas, the RIAA has continued to sue thousands of
alleged P2P file-swappers.

“This decision reaffirms the fact that a legitimate process for legal
recourse already exists — the John Doe lawsuit — and that the RIAA should
follow it. We are pleased that the RIAA has already changed its copyright
enforcement and business practices to conform to this recognized approach,
which ensures that due process is protected before an Internet user’s
personal information can be obtained by anyone who seeks it,” Deutsch said.

The Supreme Court also handed Verizon and the other Baby Bells another legal
victory Tuesday when it refused to hear several appeals to force the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) to permit long distance and competitive
local exchange carriers to lease Bell lines at a discount.

A lower court ruling earlier this year rejected the FCC’s effort to force
line sharing on the Bells.

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