Verizon Customer Fights RIAA as Piracy Crusade Moves North

A Verizon customer in the United States has decided to singlehandedlyfight the recording industry’s crusade to pry from Internet serviceproviders (ISPs) the names of Web surfers who share music and video files online. Meanwhile, north of the border, a more benign campaign against piracy was announced bythe music industry’s Canadian counterpart.

The Verizon customer, whose identity has not been revealed, appears to be thefirst consumer to challenge the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) identity grab.

To date, the RIAA has issued more than 1,000 subpoenas to ISPs, demanding the names and addresses of people who share music and video on the Web. In complying with the subpoenas, service providers are under no obligation to inform their customers that their names are being turned over to the RIAA for possible prosecution for copyright infringement.

However, some ISPs have dug in their heels against the subpoenas. Verizon even challenged the validity of the subpoenas in federal district court but was rebuffed.

Chainsaw Surgery

What’s more, Verizon has informed its customers that they might be on an RIAAhit list if the company is forced to comply with the subpoena.

Now an attorney for one of those customers has asked the telecommunicationsgiant not to honor the subpoena because he is filing a motion in court thisweek to quash it.

The attorney, Daniel Ballard of McDonough Holland & Allen inSacramento, California, reportedly will challenge the subpoena on grounds that it violates the rights to privacy and due process inherent in the U.S. Constitution.

While a balance must be struck between privacy and protecting copyrights,the RIAA’s latest action against pirates might be extreme. “It seems like[the RIAA is] trying to perform surgery with a chainsaw,” StephenKeating, executive director of the Privacy Foundation in Denver, Colorado, told TechNewsWorld.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) announcedtoday that it has launched the second stage of its campaign to fight musicpiracy within its borders.

Canadian Campaign

The campaign, which is similar to a program initiated by the RIAA last April, will use the instant-messaging functions of peer-to-peer services like Kazaa and Grokster to warn people uploading music files that they might be breaking the law.

Canadian copyright law allows users to download files for personaluse, but it prohibits distributing files. That contrasts with U.S. law thatprohibits both downloading and uploading of copyrighted material.

Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) president Brian Robertson explained that this latest move by his organization is the second phase of its program to fight music piracy. The first phase, launched in April, was a “soft sell” to teens and preteens not to steal music, he said.

“What we’re doing here is going to the next level,” he continued. “We’re communicating with these users of online services and advising them that we’re aware that they’re uploading copyrighted works without permission; that it is illegal; and that there are penalties for it. It’s putting them on notice.”

Canada Sales Plummet

Whether CRIA will have to implement a “third phase” of the program and takea page out of the RIAA’s book remains to be seen.

“We’ll determine if we have to go to the third stage somewhere down the line,” Robertson told TechNewsWorld. “If we do have to go to that level, we haven’t determined what form it will take.”

According to CRIA, retail sales of music have plummeted by 250 million Canadian dollars over the last three years, largely because of online music sharing. That drop has been offset by some 70 million Canadian dollars funneled to music interests from a tax on the media that is most commonly used to store pirated music.

Taking the long view of the current battle over control of online music, the Privacy Foundation’s Keating noted that advances in technology and expansion of bandwidth will create even greater problems for copyright holders in the future.

“This debate about piracy and privacy in the area of music downloads is just the first shot in a long war,” he said.

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