posted on Apr, 19 2003 @ 06:20 PM
U.S. Sides with Record Labels in Internet Case
By Andy Sullivan
Friday, April 18, 2003; 9:20 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government sided with the recording industry in its dispute with Verizon Communications Inc. on Friday, saying a
digital-copyright law invoked by record labels to track down Internet song-swappers did not violate the U.S. Constitution.
The move, while expected, came as a blow to the Internet provider as it struggles to shield its customers.
"We would have expected they would have recognized there are important privacy and safety issues beyond the narrow copyright claims here," Verizon
Vice President Sarah Deutsch, who is also associate general counsel, told Reuters.
Verizon, and a recording-industry trade group have been in court since September, arguing over whether Verizon should be forced to help crack down on
the online song-swapping that record labels blame for a decline in CD sales.
The Recording Industry Association of America says Verizon is required under law to help its members protect their copyrights. Verizon says it is
willing to help, but that the law only applies to Web pages stored on its computers, not the "peer to peer" networks like Kazaa that merely travel
across its wires.
A district court sided with the recording industry in January. Verizon appealed the decision, and is arguing that the names of suspected copyright
violators should not be revealed in the meantime.
Verizon argues that the law in question, the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, known as the DMCA, violates free-speech and due-process rights
protected by the U.S. Constitution.
In a filing with the U.S. District Court in Washington, the Department of Justice said the law is not unconstitutional. The Justice Department is
required to weigh in on cases where constitutional issues are raised.
Deutsch said she was disappointed that the Justice Department would take such a stand, as stalkers and other criminals could conceivably use the law
to track down victims.
RIAA WELCOMES RULING
"The government's filing today supports the proposition that we have long advocated: copyright owners have a clear and unambiguous entitlement to
determine who is infringing their copyrights online and that entitlement is constitutional," said Matt Oppenheimer, Senior Vice President for
Business and Legal Affairs at the RIAA.
"Verizon's persistent efforts to protect copy thieves on pirate peer-to-peer networks will not succeed," he told Reuters.
Justice said the law did not violate the free-speech rights of everyday users because it is only targeted at those who violate copyrights.
"It is manifest that the DMCA's subpoena provision targets the identity of alleged copyright infringers, not spoken words or conduct commonly
associated with expression," Justice said.
Justice also said that the law did not violate due-process protections because nothing in the Constitution specifically barred the investigative
process set up by the DMCA, which requires record labels to get approval from a court clerk before asking Verizon or other Internet providers to
surrender customer names.
Verizon argues that record labels should be required to get permission from a judge, rather than a clerk, a move that would add another legal hurdle
to any copyright investigation.
Verizon says such a move is necessary to protect user privacy because otherwise any copyright holder -- or anybody claiming to be a copyright holder
-- could easily obtain the name and address of any Internet user.