The RIAA expressed disappointment Friday after a federal appeals court ruled that the trade group has no authority to compel Internet service providers to turn over the identities of subscribers who u

The RIAA expressed disappointment Friday after a federal appeals court ruled that the trade group has no authority to compel Internet service providers to turn over the identities of subscribers who use peer-to-peer file-sharing services. However, the trade group vowed to continue with its lawsuits against consumers suspected of infringing copyrights.

The decision by the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sides with Verizon, which had challenged a January District Court ruling in favor of the RIAA (Bulletin, Jan. 22). The trade group has been serving Verizon and other ISPs with subpoenas seeking the identities of subscribers it suspects of sharing unauthorized files. The RIAA has so far sued more than 382 individuals whose ISPs have forwarded identification information.

"This is a disappointing procedural decision, but it only changes the process by which we will file lawsuits against online infringers," RIAA president Cary Sherman says in a statement. "It unfortunately means we can no longer notify illegal file sharers before we file lawsuits against them to offer the opportunity to settle outside of litigation. Verizon is solely responsible for a legal process that will now be less sensitive to the interests of its subscribers who engage in illegal activity."

The RIAA says it will now have to file "John Doe" lawsuits based on e-mail addresses of suspected infringers, a much slower process that requires significant judicial oversight.

While the court said it sympathizes with the music industry's plight, it ruled that the RIAA's argument that ISPs are liable as "mere conduits" to disclose the identities of its subscribers "borders upon the silly." The ruling also said that the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), upon which the RIAA based its argument, does not sufficiently address the issue of filesharing, which was not widespread when the law was crafted. The court said only Congress can fix "the loophole in Congress' effort to prevent copyright infringement on the Internet."

Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., applauded the ruling. "Today's federal appeals court decision is a victory for the privacy rights of Internet users," he says in a statement. He adds, "I encourage the recording industry to direct its efforts toward the establishment of lawful Web sites, which contain the complete inventories of its member companies. By making copyrighted content available to the public for a reasonable price in a user-friendly format, the recording industry will dramatically expand its sales through harnessing the power of the Internet for its own purposes."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

Print