Judge Says ISP Must Name Downloaders
WASHINGTON -- A U.S. federal judge has again sided with the recording industry in its efforts to subpoena the names of music downloaders, upholding a portion of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that requires Internet service providers to turn over names of alleged copyright infringers. Critics said the law provides a cheap and easy way for music companies, or anyone else, to find out the names of anonymous Internet users.
Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia wrote in an order Thursday that a portion of the law, which requires ISPs to turn over names of alleged copyright infringers when a copyright holder requests a subpoena, does not violate the U.S. Constitution.
The Recording Industry Association of America is fighting in court with Verizon Internet Services over the names of two customers who allegedly downloaded hundreds of songs through peer-to-peer services. Bates
In Thursday's decision, Bates ordered Verizon to turn over the names of both downloaders sought by the RIAA, but gave Verizon 14 days to appeal the decision. Sarah Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon Communications, said Friday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has already scheduled oral arguments on the appeal for September 16. Verizon is also asking the appeals court to delay Bates' order until it can rule on the merits of the case.
A better balance is needed between privacy and copyright protections than the current law provides, Deutsch said, suggesting that the appeals court might not be the last stop in this case. "If either side loses, it could go to the Supreme Court," she said. "I think whichever side loses will go to Congress to try to fix this legislation."
Verizon, along with 28 consumer and privacy groups and 18 other ISPs and ISP organizations,
Verizon argued that the
"This ruling means that the RIAA, or anyone else claiming to represent a copyright owner, can demand that your ISP turn over your identity to them without any notice to you or the opportunity to prove that you didn't do anything wrong," said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a statement. "The privacy of Internet users has taken a big blow today."
But Bates, in a 58-page ruling, said a clerk-issued subpoena does not violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on using court powers without a pending case or controversy. He said the clerk-ordered subpoenas are administrative in nature, falling outside the Constitution's restrictions on a court's power. The judge also rejected Verizon's protest on free speech grounds, saying requesting the name of a music downloader does not create a censorship of speech.
Bates noted that Verizon's terms of service forbid copyright infringement. "In the end, Verizon's customers should have little expectation of privacy [or anonymity] in infringing copyrights," Bates wrote.
Verizon said it will appeal Bates' decision, and the company is currently fighting a second subpoena from the RIAA. John Thorne, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Verizon, said in a statement the company will immediately seek a stay of Bates' order in the U.S. Court of Appeals. The decision goes beyond protecting "copyright monopolists," he added in the statement.
Deutsch said the judge ignored the safety concerns Verizon raised about the law. "He seemed to say copyright always trumps freedom of expression and privacy," she said.
"This decision exposes anyone who uses the Internet to potential predators, scam artists, and crooks, including identity thieves and stalkers," Thorne added. "We will continue to use every legal means available to protect our subscribers' privacy."