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RIAA Details Subpoena Strategy

By Jay Lyman TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
Aug 19, 2003 8:59 AM PT

In responding to concerns voiced by U.S. Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota), the Recording Industry Association of America has detailed its strategy for pursuing and prosecuting "egregious" infringers of copyright law.

RIAA Details Subpoena Strategy

The recording industry group -- which announced in June its plans to seek out and possibly sue individual file traders who use peer-to-peer (P2P) networks to obtain and share copyrighted music -- said in a letter to Coleman that it had requested 1,075 subpoenas through the first week of August.

While the onslaught of subpoenas has come under fire from a group of Internet service providers, and Verizon and SBC have filed lawsuits, the RIAA said in its letter to Coleman that the organization is focusing on P2P users who download and trade "substantial amounts of copyrighted music."

"Although the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] sets forth the minimum requirements for seeking a subpoena, RIAA is not seeking a subpoena as to everyone who is illegally distributing copyrighted recordings," the letter said. "Rather, at this time, RIAA is focusing on egregious infringers, those who are engaging in substantial amounts of illegal activity."

An RIAA spokesperson could not quantify what the group means by "substantial amounts," but the group called its response "proportionate to the scope of a pervasive piracy problem today."

Slinging Subpoenas

The letter, a response to concerns and questions raised by Sen. Coleman, is the first time the recording industry group has disclosed the number of subpoenas it has secured in its strategy to go after users of file-sharing networks such as Kazaa.

Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Fred von Lohmann, who said the number of RIAA subpoenas was growing by 100 per day earlier this month, told TechNewsWorld that the RIAA's strategy appears to be to issue more subpoenas than needed.

"The dragnet is being cast much more widely than the actual lawsuit is going to be," he said.

Software Search

The RIAA indicated it will file suit on the basis of evidence it gains through the subpoenas, and in the letter detailed its process of searching for copyright infringers on P2P networks.

The industry association said it uses software that searches P2P public directories for copyrighted recordings. The software then downloads a sample of the infringing files with date and time of access and stores the user's Internet Protocol (IP) address. The RIAA then identifies the infringer's ISP, according to the letter.

"Before acting on any of the information obtained by the software, an employee at RIAA manually reviews and verifies the information," the letter said. "And, before filing a request for a subpoena, RIAA sends the infringer's ISP advance notice that RIAA intends to issue a subpoena with respect to a particular IP address."

Strategy Scrutinized

Still, the subpoena strategy has drawn the ire of a group of ISPs known as NetCoalition, which criticized the subpoena requests because of the burden they place on service providers.

NetCoalition, which also expressed privacy concerns about the RIAA strategy, argued that handling the subpoenas is costly for Internet companies and that the RIAA "fishing expedition" might force providers to raise the price of Internet access.

In his concerns over the subpoenas, Sen. Coleman said the "law of unintended consequences" might mean extreme legal penalties for computer users who were unaware of infringement.

Hearings To Proceed

Coleman, who chairs the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said he is grateful for the RIAA response and revealed the recording industry association promised to provide supplementary documents that confirm it is not targeting "nominal users."

However, Coleman indicated that he intends to continue plans for hearings on the matter and said the inquiry might be broadened to include how P2P networks operate.

"He was very appreciative of the RIAA letter, and he found them to be cooperative," Coleman spokesperson Tom Steward told TechNewsWorld. "He wants to underscore his concern over the economic losses of the recording industry. At the same time, he wants to make sure the punishment fits the crime, so that's what they'll get into [in hearings]."


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