Wednesday, January 22, 2003

This is disturbing. Apparently a judge ordered Verizon to hand over the identity of individual users.

Verizon argued that the shortcut was meant to apply to only a narrow set of circumstances and that its broad use would violate its subscribers' privacy and due process rights. The company had refused to comply with a subpoena.

But Judge John D. Bates of the Federal District Court in Washington wrote that Verizon's position "would create a huge loophole in Congress's effort to prevent copyright infringement on the Internet." Verizon said it would appeal the ruling...

...Judge Bates's ruling may play a pivotal role in allowing the industry to do that, legal experts said yesterday. "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."
I agree with Ms. Deutsch, and am horrified by this decision. It makes no sense; ISPs are even more simple carriers than they used to be (thanks to the bitter end of a lot of ecommerce attempts to exploit ISP power, and the decline of value-added ISPs like AOL) and are in many respects no different than phone carriers. The latter is protected, so why not the former?

More to the point, though, is that this sort of thing is horribly counter-intuitive. Are they going to arrest people for file-sharing? Do they know how many do it? The number of people they'd need to arrest would number in the tens if not hundreds of thousands... it'd dwarf even the drug war. It's not like they can even monitor the amounts being sent around... the users certainly can't, and while ignorance of the law is no excuse, ignorance of fact certainly can be, and would be relevant in this case.

And for that matter, does the RIAA really want the negative publicity that would come from arresting the thousands and thousands of teenagers that use these services? These are middle-class kids; their parents would be outraged, and preaching about the evils of copyright infringement is not going to mollify them; in fact, once they see the wealthy and borderline-corrupt face of the body that is responsible for their kids going to jail and find out about the ambivalent position of musicians themselves on the subject, they're only going to be angrier.

(And God help the RIAA if they even breath a word about equating copying music with terrorism. )

In any case, I'm disappointed by this ruling, and I doubt the Judge thought through the ramifications.

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