September 2003

Record Labels, Internet

US Senator Norm Coleman, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee of Investigations, is concerned that the recording industry is taking an extreme approach in its attempt to quash online file trading and may hurt innocent people in the process and has asked the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), to provide detailed information about the more than 900 subpoenas it has issued so far.
As previously detailed in Law Updates, the RIAA has issued the subpoenas to universities and Internet service providers in order to obtain the names of file traders it suspects are violating copyrights. At the end of the month, the music trade group plans to file lawsuits against those caught offering “substantial” amounts of music for others to share. The Senator has asked for five pieces of information from the RIAA: Copies of all the subpoenas, a description of the standard the RIAA uses to file an application for a subpoena, and an explanation of how the group is collecting evidence against alleged file sharers. Coleman also wants to know how the RIAA is protecting computer users’ privacy and how the trade lobby is protecting people from erroneous subpoenas.

The RIAA issued a statement in response: “We will be pleased to respond to the senator’s request for information. It will confirm that our actions are entirely consistent with the law as enacted by the U.S. Congress and interpreted by the courts. It will demonstrate that our enforcement program, one part of a multipronged strategy, is an appropriate and measured response to the very serious problem of blatant copyright infringement confronting the entire music community”.

In a separate matter, SBC Communications filed a lawsuit against the RIAA alleging that subpoenas it has received were filed in the wrong jurisdiction and violate customer privacy. Earlier this year, Verizon lost a court battle with the RIAA and was forced to surrender names of four of its subscribers accused of copyright infringement. The company is appealing the ruling and has said that it shares in the senator’s concerns about consumer privacy and safety. The educational institutions in the US and elsewhere are also fighting back against the RIAA supboenas. The Massachuttets Institute of Technology has refused to hand over details stating that it is precluded by federal law from giving out student details unless the supboena is jurisdictionally correct and MIT assert that subpoenas issued indifferent states are not valid in Massachusetts. The RIAA subpoenas were issued in Washington DC. In Australia ISP’s have agreed to work with the record and entertainment industries only if they are indemnified against third party claims from their own subscribers which might result from record company actions. Somewhat unsurprisingly the labels are resisting this new offer of help because of the request for the indemnity which is attached.

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