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Downloader "Doe" Fights RIAA

Kazaa user invokes her right to privacy in face of lawsuit

September 10, 2003 12:00 AM ET

Her lawyer calls her Jane Doe. The music business calls her nycfashiongirl, which is her Kazaa screen name. She's fighting to keep her real name a secret, becoming the first individual to take a stand against the recording industry's latest attack on file traders.

In August, Jane Doe filed a legal challenge to block the Recording Industry Association of America from obtaining her identity, because it violates her right to privacy. Since June, the RIAA has run computer searches of hard drives in order to single out at least 1,075 people swapping songs on peer-to-peer services such as Kazaa. The RIAA then subpoenas the person's Internet service provider to obtain his name and address so that he can potentially be sued for copyright infringement.

The RIAA says it has been targeting those with a substantial amount of files on their hard drives. And the association claims that Jane Doe's hard drive contained more than 900 MP3s from such major-label artists as Madonna, Tori Amos and Eminem. The RIAA sent her two instant messages on Kazaa with a warning: "Don't steal music." In July, when Verizon let Jane Doe know she was a target, she began calling lawyers. "She was terrified," says Daniel N. Ballard, an attorney at the Sacramento, California, law firm McDonough Holland and Allen. "She wanted to figure out how to protect herself." Ballard says his client has refused all interview requests, and he won't reveal any personal details about her.

In addition to privacy rights, her complaint offers up a legal laundry list of defenses. For instance, Jane Doe claims that making files available on a peer-to-peer network is not the same as uploading them to the Internet as is originally inferred in the law. "The law was created before peer-to-peer file sharing existed," says Ballard. "In our case, someone unknowingly put music on the Internet, but the RIAA is saying that's equivalent to distribution." The RIAA scoffs at this claim, saying that of the hundreds of songs on Jane Doe's hard drive, many had identifying computer "fingerprints" that indicate they were originally swapped on Napster.

It's a high-stakes tactic for Jane Doe. While not all those subpoenaed by the RIAA will be sued, she probably will be. As RIAA court documents note, she "will be able to raise whatever arguments she wants in the copyright-infringement action that is sure to follow."

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