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RIAA Shrugs Off Court Ruling In Favor Of File-Sharers

01 May 2005

A federal judge recently ruled that two North Carolina universities do not have to disclose the identities of two college students who allegedly file-swapped songs on the universities' computer systems.
While the ruling might at first seem like a setback for the Recording Industry Association of America's effort to eradicate illegal file-sharing, the RIAA said the overall effect will be minimal. "This [ruling deals with] an old process that we no longer use and have not used since 2003," explained Jonathan Lamy, a spokesperson for the RIAA.
According to The Associated Press, the RIAA filed subpoenas at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in November 2003 in order to obtain the schools' cooperation in identifying two file-sharers who logged on to a peer-to-peer system as "CadillacMan" and "hulk."
But starting in January 2004, the RIAA began using a different litigation process, dubbed "John Doe," to obtain the identities of illegal file-sharers. To date, the organization has issued more than 11,000 lawsuits, including 800 against university students, under the "John Doe" process.
The way it works is the RIAA sues an anonymous computer address under the name John Doe. After the suit is filed and the judge grants the request to start the investigative process, the RIAA can subpoena the individual's identity from their Internet service provider. The complaint is then amended to include the alleged file-sharer's name. "John Doe" has been highly successful, the RIAA said, and universities have been responsive to the process.
Prior to "John Doe," the RIAA was relying on a provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that allowed for pre-lawsuit subpoenas to learn the identities of file-sharers. However, in December 2003, the D.C. Court of Appeals struck down the use of DMCA subpoenas to learn names.
"When the court ruled against us, we stopped using DMCA subpoenas, but there were still lingering cases left over that had not been resolved," including the two in North Carolina, Lamy explained. The RIAA decided not to withdraw the suit, but to also move forward using the "John Doe" litigation process.
Fred Battaglia and Michael Kornbluth, lawyers who represent one of the students targeted in the case, said they were not concerned with allegations of music piracy but with whether identifying their client would violate her privacy rights, according to the AP.
"This was a test case for North Carolina, and the way it stands as we speak is that the North Carolina schools cannot release the names of these individuals," Battaglia said.
Kornbluth added that the ruling only applied to P2P file-sharing. "We would never condone music piracy," he said. "What we're interested in is the rights of the individual [and] privacy rights being protected."