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U.S. District Court Judge John Bates ruled Thursday Verizon must reveal the names of two Internet customers the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) claims have illegally downloaded hundreds of copyrighted songs from the Web. Bates also issued a temporary stay to allow the U.S. Court of Appeals time to consider the issue of a stay.
Bates had already sided with the RIAA in January, ruling Verizon would have to disclose the names, but the telecom giant was seeking a stay of that decision until its appeal, which appears headed to the Supreme Court, is heard. Verizon's appeal is based on the constitutionality of the subpoena power provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
In his Thursday ruling, Bates said the subpoena power granted under the DMCA does not violate the first amendment rights of Internet users.
"Moreover, because Verizon is unable to show irreparable harm or that is it is likely to succeed on an appeal of its constitutional or statutory challenges, the Court also denies Verizon's request for a stay pending appeal," Bates wrote in his decision.
Verizon said it would immediately ask the Appeals Court for a stay of the ruling.
"Today's ruling goes far beyond the interests of large copyright monopolists -- such as RIAA -- in enforcing its copyrights. This decision exposes anyone who uses the Internet to potential predators, scam artists and crooks, including identity thieves and stalkers," said John Thorne, Verizon's SVP and deputy general counsel. "We will continue to use every legal means available to protect our subscribers' privacy and will immediately seek a stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals."
Thorne said the Court of Appeals has already agreed to hear the case on an expedited schedule.
"Verizon feels very strongly that the privacy, safety and due process rights of hundreds of thousands -- or perhaps millions -- of Internet subscribers hang in the balance of the Court's decision," Thorne said. "We look to the Court of Appeals to decide this case in a narrow manner that avoids a chilling affect on Internet users' private communications, such as e-mail, instant messages or surfing the Internet."
Invoking the controversial subpoena clause of the DMCA, the RIAA in August asked Bates to force Verizon to reveal the name of a subscriber suspected of downloading copyrighted music. Verizon refused to comply with the subpoena, arguing it didn't think the subpoena request met the circumstances that the DMCA allows for in compelling information in order to protect against piracy.
Verizon contended the subpoena related to material transmitted over Verizon's network, but not stored on it, and thus fell outside the scope of the subpoena power authorized in the DMCA.
After Bates ruled in the RIAA's favor, Verizon sought a stay in order to not have to reveal the name while the case was appealed. Verizon also expanded its legal defense to a constitutional review of the DMCA, particularly the subpoena power provision of the DMCA.
Unlike a usual subpoena, which requires some underlying claim of a crime and must be signed by a judge or magistrate, under the DMCA a subpoena can be issued by a court clerk without presenting evidence of a crime being committed.
The RIAA responded by filing a subpoena request for another Verizon subscriber suspected of illegally downloading music. Bates consolidated both cases.
"A federal district court has again affirmed that the law which provides copyright holders with a process to identify infringers is both Constitutional and appropriate," said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA. "If users of pirate peer-to-peer sites don't want to be identified, they should not break the law by illegally distributing music. Today's decision makes clear that these individuals cannot rely on their ISPs to shield them from accountability."