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Justice Department supports RIAA against Verizon

The US Department of Justice has filed a brief in a Washington district court in support of music industry body the RIAA's action against Verizon, an ISP that is seeking to protect the identity of a customer who apparently used file-sharing services to share music on-line.22 Apr 2003

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) wants to sue the individual for using peer-to-peer services, such as KaZaA, to make available hundreds of MP3 files, infringing its members' copyrights. But it needs the ISP to reveal his or her identity – and Verizon is not co-operating.

Verizon argued that the RIAA's demand for the customer's identity, in the form of a subpoena, was not issued according to the requirements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Verizon argued that under this Act, the alleged infringing material must actually reside on Verizon's system or network for the subpoena to be valid. Because the alleged material would only be found on the user's hard drive, Verizon refused to comply. The RIAA then sued Verizon to enforce the subpoena. In a decision issued in January, Judge John Bates ruled in favour of the RIAA.

Sarah Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon, argued that that decision "opens the door for anyone who makes a mere allegation of copyright infringement to gain complete access to private subscriber information without the due process protections afforded by the courts."

She continued,

"This case will have a chilling effect on private communications, such as e-mail, surfing the internet or the sending of files between private parties.

"Verizon is not attempting to shield customers who break copyright laws. We are, however, seeking to protect the fundamental privacy and due process rights that should be afforded to our customers and all Internet users."

Verizon appealed. But pending the hearing of the appeal, the Justice Department has entered the debate, albeit not among the parties fighting the case. It s filing pledges support for the RIAA, arguing that its subpoena is justified under the Constitution.

Matthew Oppenheim of the RIAA said:

"The Government's filing today supports the proposition that we have long advocated – copyright owners have a clear and unambiguous entitlement to determine who is infringing their copyrights on-line, and that entitlement passes Constitutional muster. Verizon's persistent efforts to protect copyright thieves on pirate peer-to-peer networks will not succeed."