December 20, 2003

RIAA Dealt a Blow in Verizon Decision

riaa_verizon.gifThe Recording Industry Association of America was dealt a major setback in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this week, curbing its ability to sue file-sharers who trade pirated songs.

The court decided that the industry could not force Internet service providers to turn over names of subscribers who trade music because the current law, written in 1998, only allows the industry to request information about subscribers who keep copyrighted material on their ISP's servers, something present-day peer-to-peer file-sharing programs do not do. "It is not the province of the courts ... to rewrite the [law] in order to make it fit a new and unforeseen Internet architecture, no matter how damaging that development has been to the music industry," the author of the majority opinion wrote. The music industry will now have to go through the more cumbersome process of actually initiating lawsuits against anonymous users before the courts can force their identities to be revealed.

Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times:

    The sharply worded ruling, which underscored the role of judges in protecting privacy and civil rights, is a major setback to the record companies in their efforts to stamp out the sharing of copyrighted songs through the Internet. It overturns a decision in a federal district court that allowed the music industry to force the disclosure of individuals simply by submitting subpoenas to a court clerk without winning a judge's approval.

    Until yesterday's ruling, the industry could seek information on file traders without filing a lawsuit or even appearing before a judge, a streamlined procedure that opponents of the industry said did not protect Internet users' rights.

    "It's a huge victory for all Internet users," said Sarah Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon Communications, which brought the suit against the Recording Industry Association of America to protect the identities of its Internet customers. "The court today has knocked down a very dangerous procedure that threatens Americans' traditional legal guarantees and violates their constitutional rights."

    The appeals court did not directly raise those constitutional issues in its decision. The judges said they were "not unsympathetic" to the industry's troubles in limiting music piracy "or to the need for legal tools to protect those rights." But in a decision that focused narrowly on the nuts and bolts of copyright law, they said that the music industry had gone too far.

    Cary Sherman, the president of the recording association, said that the case "is inconsistent with both the views of Congress and the findings of the district court." Mr. Sherman said that his organization would continue to sue those who violate copyrights. It "doesn't change the law, or our right to sue," he said. "It just changes the way we get the information."

The decision is online and is pretty interesting reading. Verizon deserves a few words of thanks from the general public, in my opinion, not because songs will go unprotected, but because Verizon saw how slippery a slope the RIAA’s policy could really be.

- Arik

Posted by Arik Johnson at December 20, 2003 03:46 PM | TrackBack