In a major victory for record companies, a U.S. District Court judge yesterday (Jan. 21) ruled in favor of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in its 6-month-old lawsuit against Inter

In a major victory for record companies, a U.S. District Court judge yesterday (Jan. 21) ruled in favor of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in its 6-month-old lawsuit against Internet service provider Verizon, Billboard Bulletin reports. The RIAA had claimed that Verizon was obligated under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to identify a subscriber who had illegally made more than 600 copyrighted music files available over the Internet.

The RIAA last summer issued Verizon with an "information subpoena" requesting the subscriber's name. Verizon had argued that under the DMCA, such subpoenas are valid only when an ISP is hosting material, not when it is merely providing Internet access.

Judge John D. Bates ruled that Verizon's position on the subpoena power "would create a huge loophole in Congress' efforts to prevent copyright infringement on the Internet." He had complained in a hearing last October that he wished the DMCA were clearer on the matter.

RIAA president Cary Sherman says he is pleased the ruling "validates our interpretation of the law," adding, "We look forward to contacting the account holder whose identity we were seeking so we can let them know that what they are doing is illegal."

In a statement, Verizon VP/associate general counsel Sarah B. Deutsch says the company will appeal the case. Deutsch says the ruling is "troubling" and will have a "chilling effect on private communications such as E-mail, surfing the Internet, or the sending of files between private parties."

Gwen Hinze, attorney for the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which had sided with Verizon in the suit, tells Bulletin, "American consumers are the big losers in this decision. They've always expected their ISPs would protect their privacy in the past, but now the ISPs are going to be required to hand over the identities of the users based on a claim of copyright infringement by the RIAA."