Requests by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for internet service providers to give up hundreds of names of customers allegedly downloading music files are facing a backlash, with a US senator questioning the practice and a second major ISP filing a lawsuit.
Senator Norm Coleman said he was concerned about the RIAA's "shotgun" approach to filing administrative subpoenas authorised by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Pacific Bell internet services, a subsidiary of SBC Communications has also filed a lawsuit against the RIAA and two other organisations after Pacific Bell received more than 200 subpoenas asking for the identities of its customers.
The RIAA responded by statement to both actions, saying it would comply with Coleman's request for information on the subpoenas. The information will confirm that the RIAA's actions are consistent with US law.
"[The information] will demonstrate that our enforcement programme, one part of a multi-pronged strategy, is an appropriate and measured response to the very serious problem of blatant copyright infringement confronting the entire music community," the RIAA said.
The DMCA allows copyright holders to subpoena ISPs for the names of people they believe are using their copyrighted material without permission. These subpoenas are issued by a court clerk without a judge's action, but Pacific Bell and other critics have suggested the subpoenas could be abused by anyone who claimed to be copyright holders.
"We really believe that anyone who can take the time to fill out a form letter can get it stamped by the court clerk and get the name of an internet user," said Larry Meyer, a spokesman for SBC. "The potential for abuse is very great."
Over the past year, Verizon Internet Services has been fighting two subpoenas from the RIAA and has lost in court twice. Verizon turned over the names of the alleged downloaders in early June but promised to keep fighting the DMCA subpoenas.
The Pacific Bell lawsuit asks that the subpoenas be declared invalid, Meyer said. The company filed the lawsuit last week because several of the RIAA subpoenas had last week as their deadlines.
Pacific Bell is also fighting demands from copyright infringement tracker MediaForce that it cancel the subscriptions of "thousands" of its customers and a subpoena from adult-themed entertainment company Titan Media, which demanded the names of 50 Pacific Bell customers.
"This lawsuit is about protecting the privacy rights of our customers," he added.
Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service