RIAA raises a V sign

Court rules Verizon must ID users to org

NEW YORK — Chalk up another round for the record labels in their fight against online music piracy.

Internet-access giant Verizon was stymied Thursday in its efforts to stay a federal court order that would force it to reveal the names and addresses of individual file-sharing users on its network to the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

Ruling, which seemed increasingly likely this week after the U.S. Dept. of Justice weighed in on behalf of the record business, clears the way for labels to sue individual peer-to-peer users for copyright infringement.

The RIAA declined to comment as to whether it will go after the music swappers in court, but the trade org has become increasingly aggressive in its pursuit of cyberpirates in recent months. Earlier this month (Daily Variety, April 3), the RIAA filed separate suits against four college students at three different schools who are accused of running file-swapping servers on campus networks.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said that because Verizon didn’t prove that disclosing the names would be unconstitutional or that it would suffer irreparable harm from the disclosure, the company “has not met its heavy burden to justify the court’s exercise of such an extraordinary remedy.”

In fact, the judge argued that denying the stay actually serves the public interest, since failing to do so would “alter the trade-offs that Congress carefully crafted” into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a watershed 1998 law that dramatically strengthened copyright protection online.

The RIAA was elated by the ruling.

“If users of pirate peer-to-peer sites don’t want to be identified, they should not break the law by illegally distributing music,” said RIAA prexy Cary Sherman. “Today’s decision makes clear that these individuals can’t rely on their ISPs to shield them from accountability.”

Verizon requested the stay almost immediately after the court issued an order in January compelling the telco to unmask one especially prolific file-swapper on its network. The company assembled a group of privacy advocates to support its cause.

But the RIAA countered that Verizon was using the privacy debate as a smokescreen to rally public opinion behind its case, and that the real issue was the logistical and monetary difficulty of responding to a high volume of potential subpoenas.

Verizon VP and associate general counsel Sarah Deutsch on Thursday said the company would immediately seek a stay from the Court of Appeals (the District Court granted it a 10-day window for that purpose), and maintained that Verizon would take the case as far as it needed to go.

Deutsch decried the RIAA’s efforts to force open Verizon’s user databases as an attack on the privacy of Internet users at large.

“We are going to continue to use every means available to protect our consumers’ privacy,” she said. “We feel that the privacy and due process rights of thousands or even millions of individuals are hanging in the balance.”

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