October 4, 2002 11:30 AM PDT

Verizon, RIAA in copyright showdown

Attorneys for Verizon Communications and the music industry sparred in court on Friday over whether to disclose the identity of an alleged peer-to-peer pirate.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has asked a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to order Verizon to turn over the name of a Kazaa subscriber who allegedly was sharing copies of more than 600 music recordings.

U.S. District Judge John Bates did not rule on the music industry's request on Friday, but because federal law emphasizes a speedy response to such requests, Bates is expected to make a decision soon. Each side argued for 45 minutes.

This case represents the entertainment industry's latest legal assault on peer-to-peer piracy. If its invocation of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is successful, music industry investigators would have the power to identify hundreds of music pirates at a time without going to court first.

"The RIAA argued in court that the statute should be interpreted to provide authority for subpoenas under the DMCA to learn the identity of individuals who are using Internet providers solely as a conduit for peer-to-peer trading," said Megan Gray, an attorney representing civil liberties groups that sided with Verizon.

The dispute is not about whether the RIAA will be able to force Verizon to reveal the identity of a suspected copyright infringer, but about what legal mechanism is appropriate. The RIAA would prefer to rely on the DMCA's turbocharged-subpoena process, because it is cheaper and faster.

At issue in the RIAA's request is an obscure part of the DMCA that permits a copyright owner to send a subpoena ordering a "service provider" to turn over information about a subscriber. Verizon says because it is only a conduit and is not hosting the material, the DMCA does not apply.

In an amicus brief filed in August, a coalition of civil liberties groups said the DMCA procedure was not sufficiently privacy-protective, and suggested filing lawsuits instead.

 

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