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US Appeals Court Mulls Constitutionality Of Music Industry Subpoenas

by Glen Shapiro, LawAndTax-News.com, New York

18 September 2003


A three judge panel at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has been tasked with deciding whether the subpoenas issued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for the details of internet users accused of illegally downloading music from the internet were constitutional.

Under the 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), District Judge John D. Bates ruled earlier this year that the subpoenas should be permitted, dismissing internet service provider, Verizon's claim that ISPs should not be forced to respond to such requests if the files in question are stored on a customer's own computer.

According to an Associated Press report on the current appeal, Judge John Roberts suggested that the users of file sharing services may be no different to those who maintain libraries in their homes, musing with regard to the folder automatically created on computers which allows other users of the service to browse music already downloaded:

'Isn't it equivalent to leaving the door to my library open? Somebody could come in and copy my books but that doesn't mean I'm liable for copyright infringement.'

However, Judge Roberts was also reportedly tough on the ISP's legal team in his questioning, alleging that the firm makes 'a lot of money off piracy'. Verizon lawyer, Andrew McBride hotly disputed this allegation, according to the AP.

Under the terms of the DMCA as it currently stands, a judge's signature is not required for the issuance of subpoenas of this type. Critics of the music industry's actions believe that this should be addressed by the appeals court, given the far-reaching privacy implications.


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