January 30, 2003 12:25 PM PST

Verizon appeals RIAA subpoena win

Verizon Communications is asking an appeals court to block a court order that would reveal the identity of an alleged peer-to-peer pirate to the music industry.

In what is widely viewed as a test case pitting privacy against copyright laws, Verizon said on Thursday that it would file the request for a stay with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals by the end of the day.

"Verizon will use every legal means to protect its subscribers' privacy," said John Thorne, a senior vice president for Verizon. "If this ruling stands, consumers will be caught in a digital dragnet, not only from record companies alleging infringement of their copyright monopolies, but from anyone who can fill out a simple form."

As previously reported, Verizon has pledged to appeal the Jan. 21 decision by U.S. District Judge John Bates, who said the wording of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) requires Verizon to give the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) the name of a Kazaa subscriber who allegedly downloaded hundreds of music recordings.

An RIAA spokesman said his organization did not immediately have a response.

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 copyright holders may use. The RIAA would prefer to rely on the DMCA's turbocharged procedures because they are cheaper and faster than filing a "John Doe" lawsuit to unmask a peer-to-peer user.

This case represents the entertainment industry's latest legal assault on peer-to-peer piracy. If its invocation of the DMCA is upheld on appeal, music industry investigators or other copyright holders would have the power to identify hundreds or thousands of music pirates at a time without filing a lawsuit first.

Verizon has found allies among some nonprofit groups, including the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Consumer Alert, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and National Consumers League.

In his 37-page decision, Bates ruled that Congress used "language that is clear" when crafting the DMCA. "Under Verizon's reading of the act, a significant amount of potential copyright infringement would be shielded from the subpoena authority of the DMCA," Bates wrote. "That would, in effect, give Internet copyright infringers shelter from the long arm of the DMCA subpoena power and allow infringement to flourish."

RIAA spokesman Matthew Oppenheim said the group plans to oppose Verizon's request for a stay.

"The court clearly rejected Verizon's claims that to respond to a subpoena would somehow jeopardize an individual's privacy," Oppenheim said. "Instead of attempting to delay the enforcement of this decision, Verizon would be better served by doing its part and helping us combat the billions of illegal downloads that are depriving musicians, songwriters, record companies, retailers and countless others of their fair due."

 

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