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RIAA Can't Shakedown ISPs

Recording industry suffers setback in digital war

December 22, 2003 12:00 AM ET

The Recording Industry Association of America's effort to stop illicit file-trading suffered a major setback Friday when a federal appeals court ruled that the organization can no longer use copyright subpoenas to force Internet service providers to identify subscribers who are downloading music.

In the last year, the RIAA has used the power to subpoena ISPs for their subscriber information as a key tool in their fight against music piracy, filing civil lawsuits against the most active file-traders, forcing the defendants to settle and pay steep fines or face continued legal action.

Sarah Deutsh, an attorney for Internet service provider Verizon, heralded the ruling as a victory for Internet users. "Consumers' rights cannot be trampled upon in the quest to enforce [these copyrights]," she told the Associated Press.

Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, decried the ruling. "This is a disappointing procedural decision, but it only changes the process by which we file lawsuits against online infringers," he said in a statement. "This decision in no way changes our right to sue, or the fact that those who upload or download copyrighted music without authorization are engaging in illegal activity.

"We can and will continue to file copyright infringement lawsuits against illegal file-sharers," he continued. "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."

Handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the decision reversed an earlier ruling that allowed such subpoenas. It will force the RIAA to use more indirect, costly and time-consuming methods to identify file-traders.

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