Music Industry Sues Hundreds Over Piracy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The U.S. music industry on Wednesday said it is suing 532 people identified only as “John Doe” in anti-piracy lawsuits after a recent court ruling forced record labels to abandon earlier methods of tracking down online copyright infringers.
The Recording Industry Association of America, which has been fighting the digital piracy it blames for a three-year slump in CD sales, said it filed four separate suits against 532 users of undisclosed Internet service providers.
In a new legal tactic, the trade group identified song swappers by numerical Web addresses. It plans to discover their names and locations through subpoenas.
The RIAA has been unable to sue suspected individual song swappers by name since mid-December, when a federal appeals court sided with Verizon Communications and ruled that ISPs did not have to respond to subpoenas filed as a prelude to lawsuits requesting the names of users.
Three of the suits were filed in New York, and the fourth in Washington, DC, RIAA President Cary Sherman said on a conference call with journalists.
“Our campaign against illegal file sharers is not missing a beat,” Sherman said.
In recent years, record labels and even musicians likeMetallica and Sheryl Crow have campaigned against peer-to-peer networks like Napster and Kazaa, claiming they have contributed to plummeting CD sales and cheated them out of royalties by letting people swap music for free.
The RIAA refused to disclose the ISPs involved in the John Doe suits, but Verizon said it had recently been notified it would soon be getting subpoenas.
Sarah Deutsch, Verizon vice president and associate general counsel, said the company had not seen the lawsuits and had not spoken with the RIAA regarding the suits, but said it had received nearly 50 e-mail advance notices from the RIAA, saying it would soon be receiving subpoenas from attorneys.
PEER-TO-PEER GROUPS RULED EXEMPT
The RIAA had previously invoked a 1998 digital-copyright law to force ISPs to turn over suspects’ names, an approach upheld by a lower court.
But the appeals court found the law does not apply to peer-to-peer networks, where infringing material is stored on individual hard drives rather than on public Web sites.
Sherman said the decision complicated and raised the cost of the industry’s anti-piracy efforts, and he predicted that settlements would likely rise to reflect the higher costs.
Verizon’s Deutsch, on Wednesday said the suits should discourage frivolous subpoenas and protect customer privacy and due-process rights.
“The past method was an unsupervised digital dragnet,” she said. “The difference is now the subpoenas have to be administered under a judge. Our goal is to comply, although we don’t know any details. We’re interested to see if the RIAA is trying anything new here,” she said.
Legal experts believe the new tactic should help ease tensions between the RIAA and ISPs.
“The ISPs still have privacy issues that have not been totally resolved. A court-issued subpoena will have to be done excruciatingly properly or an ISP will not obey it,” said Len Rubin, a Chicago-based copyright attorney, adding the ISPs will scrutinize subpoenas carefully, looking for discrepancies.
Others like Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican who chairs a Senate investigations committee and has held hearings on digital piracy, criticized the latest round of lawsuits.
“The decision by the RIAA to rely primarily on the fear of the courts and litigation to pummel (peer-to-peer) users is unfortunate and misdirected,” Coleman said.
“While it’s an improvement that the record industry now has to play by the same rules as everyone else who goes into court, they are still heading in the wrong direction,” said Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Since September, the RIAA has settled 233 of 382 lawsuits for about $3,000 each and has agreed on another 100 settlements in principle. The rest are still in court.
The latest suits are also targeted against what the RIAA deems as the most “egregious” cases of copyright infringement.
A study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found the number of people who downloaded music from the Web fell by around half by late 2003 from the early part of the year.
Music Industry Sues Hundreds Over Piracy