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Court hands entertainment industry a victory in piracy case

A federal judge has ordered Verizon Communications to give a record industry trade group the name of an Internet subscriber suspected of illegally distributing commercial music.

The closely watched case, brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), is also important to television program and motion picture distributors because it allowed the copyright holder to bypass the lengthy process of filing a lawsuit.

The judge ordered Verizon to violate the privacy of its broadband customer, violating what the defense argued was the subscriber’s privacy and right of due process of law.

The centerpiece of the case was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the 1998 legislation that provides copyright holders the ability to circumvent the normal judicial process in pursuing suspected violators. The act has been highly controversial and proposals are now before Congress that would highly restrict its impact.

Federal District Judge John D. Bates wrote that Verizon's attempt to conceal the identity of its customer “would create a huge loophole in Congress's effort to prevent copyright infringement on the Internet.”

Verizon said it would appeal the ruling. “The court's decision has troubling ramifications for consumers, service providers and the growth of the Internet,” said Sara Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon. “It opens the door for anyone who makes a mere allegation of copyright infringement to gain complete access to private subscriber information without the due process protections afforded by the courts.”

The judge’s ruling means computer owners using dozens of popular Internet file-sharing programs can more easily be identified and tracked by copyright owners. Even for those concealing their names with aliases can still be subject to warning letters, civil lawsuits or criminal prosecution.

“This puts a huge burden on Internet service providers,” said Harris Miller, head of the Washington-based Information Technology Association of America. “It turns them into judge, jury and executioner just because someone makes an allegation about a problem.”

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