Feb. 2, 2004

Record Industry Cuts Corners in Crusade Against File-Sharers

Public Citizen, Electronic Frontier Foundation and ACLU Say
"File Lawsuits Properly"

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The music industry has not shown adequate justification for unveiling the identities of anonymous online music "pirates," Public Citizen, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today told two federal courts. In amicus curiae briefs, the groups asked the courts to require the record industry to follow procedures designed to protect the privacy of Internet users in its latest round of lawsuits against unnamed alleged music file-sharers.

The groups 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. The groups argue that in lawsuits against more than 500 alleged copyright infringers, 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.

Courts have recognized the right to anonymous speech on the Internet and developed a balancing test to ensure that 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. 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.

"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."

"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 civil liberties groups filed "friend of the court" briefs in district courts in Washington, D.C., and New York, where suits in which the recording industry has sought identities of file-sharers are pending.

Click here to read a copy of the brief and here to read the amicus declaration.

Click here for more information on RIAA v The People.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that has a history of defending free speech on the Internet.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading civil liberties organization working to protect rights in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF actively encourages and challenges industry and government to support free expression and privacy online. EFF is a member-supported organization and maintains one of the most linked-to Web sites in the world at www.eff.org/.

The American Civil Liberties Union works daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve individual rights and liberties. Founded in 1920, the ACLU is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with over 400,000 members and supporters. The ACLU is online at www.aclu.org.

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