• United States
by Ann Harrison

Are you being subpoenaed by the RIAA?

Aug 07, 20034 mins
Enterprise Applications

* EFF allows file traders to check if they are being hunted by the RIAA

The Associated Press reported last month that the music industry has won at least 871 federal subpoenas against computer users suspected of sharing copyrighted music files. The AP quoted court officials as saying that 75 new subpoenas are being approved each day.

Courts have ruled that the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows the recording industry to force ISPs to turn over the names of suspected file traders with a subpoena from any U.S. District Court clerk’s office. A judge’s signature is not required. 

The subpoenas reviewed by the AP show that the music industry is now trying to force subscriber names out of some of the largest ISPs including Verizon and Comcast, as well as some colleges such as Depaul University in Chicago. Verizon, which has appealed subpoenas by the Recording Industry Association of America, told the AP late last month that it received at least 150 subpoenas during the last two weeks. No subpoenas had yet been sent to AOL Time Warner, the largest U.S. ISP and parent company of Warner Music Group.

The RIAA has stated that it expects to file at least several hundred lawsuits seeking financial damages against file traders within the next eight weeks. The RIAA has said it is open to settlement proposals, but it can seek damages of between $750 and $150,000 for each alleged illegal song under U.S. copyright law.

The AP said that many of the subpoenas it reviewed featured songs from a handful of recording artists including Avril Lavigne, Snoop Dogg and Michael Jackson, who himself has come out against the prosecution of file traders. According to the AP, some subpoenas cite as few as five songs as “representative recordings” of music files available for downloading from accused copyright violators. The record companies had previously said that they would target file traders who offer large collections of MP3 files. 

The AP reports that the subpoenas are so prolific that the U.S. District Court in Washington, now acting as a clearinghouse for these subpoena requests, is already suffering staff shortages from the burden of processing the paperwork. 

Want to find out if a subpoena has been issued for you?  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is now offering a service that you can use to check usernames used on file sharing services against a database of those usernames specified in hundreds of subpoenas the RIAA issued last month to ISPs.

The EFF is also using the database to help document suspected widespread privacy invasions committed by the misidentified copyright infringers.  The initial database includes 125 subpoenas issued through July 8, 2003, and the EFF says it will update the database with hundreds of additional subpoenas as they become available through the court system.

The EFF subpoena database also allows people to check if the recording industry named their IP address, in a subpoena. But the organization points out that a username appearing in the database does not confirm absolutely that the RIAA has issued a subpoena seeking the name of a particular person. The EFF points out that file sharing services support duplicate usernames as well as allow multiple people to use the same account or same computer. The EFF further notes that the records in the database do not reflect all subpoenas issued, due to lags between issuance and entry into the court’s electronic record system by court employees.

In an effort to provide information and legal referrals for those who are targeted by subpoenas, EFF has also partnered with the U.S. Internet Industry Association and other organizations to form the Subpoena Defense Alliance, which assists consumers and ISPs.

“The recording industry continues its futile crusade to sue thousands of the over 60 million people who use file sharing software in the U.S.,” said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann, in a statement. “We hope that EFF’s subpoena database will give people some peace of mind and the information they need to challenge these subpoenas and protect their privacy.”