In a ruling hailed by some as a major victory in the recording industry’s epic battle against online piracy — but decried by others as a threat to Web privacy — a judge has ordered an Internet service provider to turn over the identity of a voracious file-swapper to an industry group.
U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates ruled that Verizon Internet Services must disclose the name of the individual, who used the Kazaa file-swapping service to download as many as 600 songs.
The Recording Industry Association of America had asked the judge to force Verizon to honor a subpoena it served on the ISP seeking the swapper’s identity.
The RIAA has not said whether it will pursue criminal charges or civil action against the individual once it obtains his or her identity.
“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,” RIAA president Cary Sherman said.
But the group may not have to pursue a case in order to have the desired effect, according to some legal experts, who predict that the ruling, even if it is overturned on appeal, may have a chilling effect on file-swapping.
“I think file-swappers operated under two assumptions, one being that they couldn’t be identified, the other that no one would ever pursue them for what they were doing,” University of Pennsylvania marketing professor Peter S. Fader told the E-Commerce Times. “At least one of those illusions has been wiped out, and potentially both of them.”
Whereas many casual file-swappers had ceased the practice after the demise of Napster, Kazaa and other alternatives have been gaining more attentionlately, and another wave of public adoption seemed possible before the ruling, Fader said.
Vowing To Fight
Verizon spokesperson Susan Cavender Butta told the E-Commerce Times that Verizon plans to appeal the decision, citing the need to protect consumer privacy and a potential “chilling effect” on other Internet uses, including exchanges of private e-mail.
In his ruling against Verizon, the judge set aside the ISP’s interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which the RIAA had sought to use to gain access to the user’s identity.
DMCA Battle Lines
The DMCA, long a point of contention for online privacy experts and copyright holders such as music and movie studios, has been the subject of several major court rulings in recent months.
In November, the first-ever criminal prosecution under the law ended with the acquittal of a Russian software firm accused of publishing code to enable free downloads of Adobe eBooks. The movie industry also lost a battle when a court ruled it could not sue residents of other states in a case involving a Texas man who reportedly posted code for unlocking anti-copying software on DVDs.