Record Industry Cuts Corners in Crusade Against File-Sharers, ACLU and Privacy Rights Groups Say

February 2, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The music industry has not shown adequate justification for unveiling the identities of anonymous online music “”pirates,”” Public Citizen, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation today told two federal courts.

In “”friend-of-the-court”” briefs submitted to district courts in Washington and New York, where the record industry has filed lawsuits to uncover the identity of alleged file-sharers, the groups asked the courts to require the industry to follow procedures designed to protect the privacy of Internet users.

“We’re not saying the record industry shouldn’t go after file-sharers, only that they must do so in a way that’s fair,”” said Aden Fine, an ACLU staff attorney involved in the litigation. “”Our system mandates that people accused of wrongdoing, be it criminal violations or copyright infringement, be told what they’re accused of and given an opportunity to defend themselves.””

The groups emphasized that they do not question the seriousness of the illegal activity alleged by the record companies, but object to the process the companies have tried to use to obtain the file-sharers’ identities. In lawsuits against more than 500 alleged copyright infringers, they said, the record companies have not presented sufficient evidence to compel disclosure of the alleged file-sharers’ identities and do not ensure notice to the alleged file-sharers so that they have an opportunity to protect their privacy.

“”Our legal system normally guarantees each person accused of wrongdoing the right to an individual, fair and just hearing,”” said Public Citizen attorney Paul Levy. “”The record industry should have to follow the same legal standards as everyone else and file each case in a court local to the alleged file-sharer.””

Courts have recognized the right to anonymous speech on the Internet and developed a balancing test to ensure that this right is not needlessly trammeled in litigation. The test requires that anonymous users be notified that their identity is sought and given time to hire a lawyer. The specific infringed files must be identified and shown to the court to be actionable. In this case, the industry showed such detail for only three of the 199 defendants, the groups said.

The record industry also failed to protect the basic due process and fairness rights of Internet users, the groups said. It lumped more than 100 individuals with no connection to one another into each of several court filings, even though the individuals allegedly shared different music using different file-sharing software at different places throughout the country.

“”Once again, the RIAA is trying to cut corners in its crusade against file-sharers and deny Internet users the legal protections that are available in all other types of legal cases,”” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “”All of those accused should receive notice and have a chance to refute accusations of file-sharing before the record industry compels their Internet Service Providers to reveal their identities.””

The Washington brief is online at

The New York brief is online at

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