ISP strikes back over file-trader suits

Telco SBC is arguing that the recording industry's tactics in pursuing individual song-swappers may violate the US constitution on privacy grounds
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor
The US' largest supplier of ADSL broadband connections is challenging the recording industry's current campaign of targeting song-swappers with a lawsuit filed late on Wednesday, charging that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is violating its customers' right to privacy.

Pacific Bell Internet Services (PBIS), operated by US telecommunications giant SBC, challenged the subpoenas served against it by the RIAA on procedural grounds, arguing that hundreds of them were served improperly. However, the group made it clear that its action was taken in order to protect the privacy of its customers.

The lawsuit charges that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which the RIAA says supports its current anti-piracy actions, may violate the right to privacy enshrined in the US constitution.

According to the lawsuit, more than 200 of the subpoenas filed against PBIS were issued from the wrong court of jurisdiction, arguing that they should have been issued from the California district court rather than the District of Columbia. PBIS also said that the subpoenas were overly broad and that the RIAA could not group multiple requests for information on alleged file-swappers under a single subpoena.

The RIAA responded that it was "disappointed" with PBIS' lawsuit, saying it had contacted SBC to discuss the issue but had been "rebuked". "This procedural gamesmanship will not ultimately change the underlying fact that when individuals engage in copyright infringement on the Internet, they are not anonymous and service providers must reveal who they are," the RIAA said in a published statement.

SBIS is seeking a jury trial, as well as a declaration that the RIAA subpoenas are overly broad in scope and should have been filed in California.

The RIAA has filed close to 1,000 subpoenas in the US District Court in Washington this month requesting information from educational institutions and Internet service providers (ISPs) on users of Kazaa, the peer-to-peer file-sharing service. The group issued the requests as part of its continuing effort to crack down on individuals using the Internet to illegally distribute copyrighted music.

The RIAA has already won a key court decision upholding its right to use the subpoenas, which take advantage of a controversial fast-track provision that allows copyright holders to obtain information about alleged infringers without first filing a lawsuit. That decision, which forced Verizon Communications to turn over the name of a broadband subscriber accused of swapping copyrighted works on Kazaa, vastly simplified the RIAA's investigations and effectively opened the subpoena floodgates.

CNET News.com's John Borland contributed to this report.

Editorial standards