RIAA Can No Longer Subpoena ISPs

Gretchen Gallen
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) took two steps back Friday in its legal approach to stifle file trading activity over peer-to-peer networks.

In an ongoing tussle between the RIAA and a number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), many of which have been forced to turn over individual user information to be used in litigation, Verizon Communications took the RIAA to court and came out claiming victory.

A U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned a trial judge's ruling that had previously granted the RIAA the right to use a certain type of copyright subpoena as permitted under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The wording of the DMCA states that ISPs must turn over the names of people suspected of operating pirate websites upon subpoena from any U.S. District Court clerk's office.

However, the court ruled that the RIAA's previous method for tracking down file-sharers through ISPs is not authorized by law because the wording of the DMCA predates the popular use of file-sharing technology.

From this point on, the RIAA will only be able to file lawsuits against file-sharers based on their Internet address, without knowledge of their names or addresses.

The appeals court decision is expected to be a significant setback for the RIAA's aggressive strategy to prosecute file-sharers and will most definitely hinder its efforts.

Since the initial ruling, the RIAA has filed hundreds of lawsuits against file-sharers through information obtained from ISPs. However, Verizon Communications has refused to concede to the RIAA subpoena to hand over information on its subscribers.

According to the AP, the appeals court decided that the DMCA does not give copyright holders the ability to subpoena customer names from Internet providers without filing a formal lawsuit.

Verizon reportedly put forth the argument that ISPs should only be subpoenaed when pirated music is stored on computers that providers directly control.

According to the AP, the appeals court reportedly expressed sympathy for the RIAA and it plight to protect copyrighted material from being exploited over the Internet.

The judge was quoted as saying that it was not the role of the courts to re-write the DMCA, "no matter how damaging that development has been to the music industry or threatens being to the motion picture and software industries."

Friday's ruling is not expected to in any way affect the 382 outstanding lawsuits against file-sharers that have already been filed.