Yesterday, a District Court judge ordered Verizon Internet Services to divulge the name of a Verizon subscriber to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) because the subscriber allegedly used KaZaA peer-to-peer software to share music online.
The RIAA sought the information from Verizon using a controversial subpoena provision introduced by the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA subpoena provision is a mandate that ISPs provide copyright owners with information about alleged infringers. Verizon refused to divulge the subscriber's identity, claiming that the provision didn't cover alleged copyright-infringing material that resides on individuals' own computers, it only covers material that resides on an ISP's own computer.
Judge Bates of the Washington D.C. District Court rejected Verizon's interpretation of the DMCA subpoena provision, ordering Verizon to reveal the subscriber's identity.
The dire implication of this ruling is that any copyright owner who claims infringement can force an ISP to reveal subscribers' identities merely by obtaining a subpoena from a district court clerk, without any judicial oversight.
EFF believes the DMCA subpoena provision endangers consumers' privacy and is inconsistent with the constitutional right to anonymous speech. The DMCA provision counters established case law that provides due process safeguards designed to protect the anonymity of speakers until a court declares evidence of wrongdoing. EFF maintains that these same due process standards should apply to DMCA subpoenas.
"Why should a copyright owner who claims copyright infringement have any greater right to obtain someone's identity than a company who wants to obtain the identify of an anonymous bulletin board poster?" said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "The same procedural safeguards should apply."
"The big losers from this decision are American consumers," said EFF Staff Attorney Gwen Hinze. "People used to rest assured that their ISP would protect their privacy. After this decision, your ISP will be required to turn over your identity to any copyright holder simply because they claim you're doing something illegal."