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Record Companies Cut Corners in Crusade Against File-Sharers

Feb. 24, 2004

Record Companies Cut Corners in Crusade Against File-Sharers

Public Citizen Asks Recording Industry to 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 today told a federal court in Pennsylvania. In an amicus curiae brief, the group asked the court 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.

Public Citizen does not question the seriousness of the illegal activity alleged by the record companies but objects to the process the companies have tried to use to obtain the file-sharers’ identities. Public Citizen argues that in a lawsuit against more than 200 alleged copyright infringers, the record companies have not presented sufficient evidence to compel disclosure of the alleged file-sharers’ identities and did not provide notice to the alleged file-sharers so 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. Also, the files that were allegedly shared must be identified and shown to be subject to legal action. In this case, the industry showed such detail for only three of the 203 defendants, the brief said.

The record industry also failed to protect the basic due process and fairness rights of Internet users. It lumped 203 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 Charlotte Garden. “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.”

The “friend of the court” brief was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where a suit in which the recording industry has sought identities of file-sharers is pending. Click here to view a copy of the brief.