ISP Answers RIAA Subpoena With Suit
WASHINGTON -- The music industry's quest for ISPs to release names of customers who allegedly download music files is hitting a backlash: A senator is challenging the practice and a second major ISP has filed suit.
Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, recently expressed concerns about what he calls a "shotgun" approach by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in protecting its copyrights. The organization
The RIAA responded by statement to both actions, saying it will comply with Coleman's request for information on the subpoenas. That response will confirm the RIAA is acting within the law, the RIAA says.
The information "will demonstrate that our enforcement program, one part of a multi-pronged strategy, is an appropriate and measured response to the very serious problem of blatant copyright infringement confronting the entire music community," according to the RIAA's statement.
The DMCA lets copyright holders subpoena ISPs for the names of people they believe are using their copyrighted material without permission. These subpoenas are issued by a court clerk without a judge's action, but Pacific Bell and other critics have suggested the subpoenas could be abused by anyone claiming to be a copyright holder, including criminals.
"We really believe that anyone who can take the time to fill out a form letter can get it stamped by the court clerk and get the name of an Internet user," said Larry Meyer, a SBC spokesperson. "The potential for abuse is very great."
For the past year, Verizon Internet Services has fought two RIAA subpoenas, and lost in court twice. Verizon
Pacific Bell's suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asks the subpoenas be declared invalid, according to Meyer. The company filed the lawsuit last week because several of the RIAA subpoenas named a deadline for compliance last week, he said.
Pacific Bell is also fighting demands from copyright infringement tracker MediaForce, and a subpoena from adult-themed entertainment company Titan Media. MediaForce is demanding Pacific Bell cancel the subscriptions of "thousands" of its customers, and Titan Media wants the names of 50 Pacific Bell customers.
The MediaForce demands suggest the ISP should cancel customer accounts on "their word alone," Meyer said. "This lawsuit is about protecting the privacy rights of our customers," he added.
The RIAA called Pacific Bell's arguments against the subpoenas "old news." The telecom company is "recycling many of the same arguments" already rejected in the Verizon case, according to the RIAA.
"It's unfortunate that they have chosen to litigate this, unlike every other ISP which has complied with their obligations under the law," an RIAA statement says. "We had previously reached out to SBC to discuss this matter, but had been rebuked. This procedural gambit will not ultimately change the underlying fact that when individuals engage in copyright infringement on the Internet, they are not anonymous and service providers must reveal who they are."
Meanwhile, Coleman, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, wrote to the RIAA. He is asking for a copy of all its DMCA subpoenas, a description of the methodology the RIAA uses to find evidence of illegal file-sharing, and other information.
Coleman says in a statement that he does not support illegal file-trading, but suggests there may be a "more circumspect and narrowly tailored method" for the RIAA to go after file downloaders.
"The industry seems to have adopted a shotgun approach that could potentially cause injury and harm to innocent people who may have simply been victims of circumstance, or possessing a lack of knowledge of the rules related to digital sharing of files," Coleman says in a statement. "The RIAA subpoenas have snared unsuspecting grandparents whose grandchildren have used their personal computers, individuals whose roommates have shared their computers, as well as colleges and universities across the United States."