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8/14/2003

Music-piracy subpoena is challenged

Los Angeles Times

After serving Internet providers with more than 1,000 subpoenas demanding the names and addresses of people who share pirated music and video online, the Recording Industry Association of America has run into someone who wants to fight for her anonymity.

The unidentified woman is a Verizon Internet Services customer accused of offering copyrighted songs on a file-sharing network for others to download free. The woman, who has hired a lawyer to contest a subpoena, apparently is the first to try to prevent her identity from being disclosed to the record companies’ trade association.

People identified through the subpoenas will be prime targets for the copyright-infringement lawsuits the RIAA plans to file in its campaign against online music piracy. The trade group’s subpoenas have been resisted by some Internet providers but not, until now, by the customers whose anonymity the RIAA wants to penetrate. Since Internet providers aren’t required to notify customers about subpoenas, many might not be aware they’re targeted.

Sarah Deutsch, associate general counsel for Verizon Communications Inc., said the company — which challenged in federal court the subpoenas with which it has been served, and lost — has notified all customers whose names have been sought by the RIAA. One of them retained an attorney, Daniel Ballard of McDonough Holland & Allen in Sacramento, Calif., who asked Verizon last month not to comply with the subpoena because he planned to contest it.

Verizon informed the RIAA of Ballard’s request, then waited for the two sides to resolve the dispute themselves, Deutsch said. Last week, the RIAA asked a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to compel Verizon to release the woman’s name, she said.

Ballard said he planned to file a motion this week to quash the subpoena. He said he would challenge the constitutionality of the RIAA subpoena process on grounds that it has violated people’s rights to privacy and due process.

Verizon made the same case when it tried to block the RIAA subpoenas earlier this year, and U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in Washington rejected the argument. The RIAA motion to forceVerizon to honor the subpoena demanding the woman’s name raises new questions about whether individuals have the right to intervene to protect privacy, Deutsch said.

“This type of issue will go beyond pure copyright law to important questions of due process and consumer rights,” Deutsch said. But Matthew Oppenheim, the RIAA’s senior vice president of business and legal affairs, said the strategy is working well.

“From our perspective, we are on target, and if people think that suits aren’t coming, they should wake up,” he said.