Verizon internet services is to reveal the names of four large-scale music downloaders after an appeals court denied the company's request to overturn the subpoena.
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Verizon filed the appeal after a US district judge ordered the internet service provider to hand over the names of two Verizon customers who had, allegedly, downloaded hundreds of songs through a peer-to-peer file-swapping service.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has sought the names of two other alleged downloaders from Verizon, but are not part of the previous court rulings.
Although the four alleged downloaders could face legal action from the RIAA, Verizon will continue to fight a portion of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows copyright holders to find out names of suspected copyright violators through subpoenas issued by a court clerk instead of a judge, said Sarah Deutsch, vice-president and associate general counsel for Verizon Communications.
"Verizon will continue arguing the merits of this case and taking the appeals process as far as it will go," Deutsch said.
Verizon, along with more than 40 consumer groups, privacy groups and ISPs, argued against the subpoenas, saying they violate the US Constitution's prohibition on using court powers without a pending case or controversy.
Verizon also argued that the clerk-issued subpoenas open up a potential for abuse, with anyone wanting to know the name of an anonymous internet user, including pedophiles and stalkers, able to claim a copyright violation and get a subpoena.
Deutsch said the RIAA could have avoided this court battle by filing "John Doe" lawsuits against the anonymous downloaders and having a judge decide whether subpoenas were warranted.
"What we think the RIAA is trying to do is create a legal shortcut where they can amass hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of names," Deutsch said.
"When Congress enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it deliberately balanced the interests of internet service providers and copyright holders," said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA.
"ISPs were given immunity from liability for piracy on their networks, while copyright holders were given a quick and efficient mechanism to learn the identity of computer users who were stealing their works."
The appeals court decision confirmed the RIAA's position that "music pirates must be held accountable for their actions, and not be allowed to hide behind the company that provides their internet service," Sherman added.
"Given that an epidemic of illegal downloading is threatening the livelihoods of artists, songwriters and tens of thousands of other recording industry workers who bring music to the public, we look forward to Verizon's speedy compliance with this ruling."