HomeFocus AreasCourt CasesRecording Industry Association of America (RIAA) v. Verizon (2003)

Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) v. Verizon (2003)

On December 19, 2003, reversing the rulings of the lower court, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of Verizon (pdf Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) v. Verizon). In a case with significant implications for users of file sharing systems, the decision stopped the RIAA from gaining access to names of individuals that the RIAA suspected of illegally downloading music from the Internet. The suits filed by the RIAA have focused on section 512(h), the subpoena provision of the DMCA, that allows any copyright owner or representative to "request the clerk of any US district court to issue a subpoena" to force an Internet service provider (ISP) to identify "an alleged infringer."

In July 2002, the RIAA filed a lawsuit against Verizon Internet Services Inc., after Verizon refused to comply with a subpoena issued at the request of the RIAA. Verizon argued that "the RIAA subpoena relates to conduct outside the limited scope of the extraordinary subpoena authority created by the DMCA, [and] is invalid." In December, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with Verizon that the special subpoenas could be used only when material is stored on an Internet service provider’s system or network, not when the service provider is merely acting as a conduit for the communications of others. The court ruled that subpoenas issued by copyright owners under the DMCA seeking the identity of individuals engaging in peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted sound recordings and other works were invalid.

The ruling applies to all Internet service providers, including universities and colleges. While it is strictly applicable only to subpoenas issued from the district court in Washington, DC, the strongly worded decision likely will be treated as important precedent in other jurisdictions.

ARL, with others in the library community and public sector, participated in an amicus brief (PDF) in this case siding with Verizon.

The Verizon victory has resulted in a new legal tactic by the RIAA to identify individuals they believe are engaging in illegal file sharing of copyrighted music. The trade association filed more than 500 "John Doe" suits that are more labor intensive and expensive to file. Additional challenges in this arena are underway including a recent case, RIAA v. Charter Communications Inc. ARL, along with 21 other consumer, privacy, and library groups sided with Charter Communications Inc. In a case similar to that of Verizon, the RIAA is seeking the identity of Charter Communications subscribers who they believe are engaging in P2P activity with copyrighted music.

For more information, please see the press release.



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