RIAA v. Verizon

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In the summer of 2002, the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) asked Verizon Online to reveal the identities of four subscribers who were accused of harboring copyrighted music material on their personal computers. Verizon refused and the RIAA sent the ISP a subpoena pursuant to 17 U.S.C. ß 512 (h) of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), which allows a copyright owner or a person on the owner's behalf to ask a district court clerk "to issue a subpoena to a service provider for identification of an alleged [copyright] infringer." Verizon did not comply with the request because the alleged copyright materials were not on Verizon's computer servers, but rather on the user's personal computers, which the company argued was an invalid use of the subpoena. The RIAA sued Verizon on July 24, 2002, over its refusal to comply with the subpoena, and on January 21, 2003, the district court ruled for RIAA, finding that the process used by the RIAA was correct. Verizon appealed the decision, arguing that allowing an ISP to reveal the identity of a subscriber upon a mere allegation of copyright infringement violates the subscriber's privacy rights and is likely unconstitutional because of the lack of due process.

On June 4, 2003, the appeals court denied Verizon's request for a stay of the lower court's order. According to the court, Verizon "has not shown so great a likelihood of success on the merits as to outweigh the clearly greater harm that would accrue to the [RIAA] if the stay were granted." Verizon turned over the names of the four subscribers to the RIAA on June 5, 2003, but will continue arguing the merits of the case in the pending appeal. Oral argument in the case is scheduled for September 2003.

Issues arising out of RIAA v. Verizon

This is the first case to interpret the privacy issues surrounding the DMCA. The legal issue is whether ß 512 (h) of DMCA allows a copyright owner to subpoena the identity of a subscriber where the alleged infringing material is present on the ISPs server. There are also questions as to whether the legislation itself may be unconstitutional, because the ease of obtaining the identity of a subscriber could lead to misuse of the information; for instance being used by the copyright industry for non-infringement related purposes or by criminals for identity theft. There is no due process built into the DMCA to make sure that a copyright holder is legitimately obtaining the identities, nor are there any provisions to regulate the copyright holder's use of the obtained information. Verizon also argues that the recording industry is using ß 512 (h) to combat peer-to-peer file sharing, an inappropriate use of the law, since that is not what it was intended for. The fear is that as copy right holders chase after hundreds or even thousands of peer-to-peer users using automated copyright infringement monitors, such as Ranger Inc., it will result in huge costs for the ISPs faced with processing the requests.

Verizon is pushing for legislative changes to the DMCA to clarify ß 512 (h) and provide a more stringent process for obtaining the identity of subscribers. Additionally, Verizon is calling for a protective provision that would limit the copyright holders' use of the information.

EPIC has participated in the case as amicus curiae, arguing in support of ISP subscriber rights.

Legal Materials


Second Subpoena

Stay Motion

First Subpoena

Original RIAA Complaint

News Items


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Last Updated: April 7, 2004
Page URL: http://www.epic.org/privacy/copyright/verizon/default.html