Recording Industry Association of America v. Verizon Internet Services

Internet Free Speech — Right To Speak Anonymously
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Case Description: 

File Sharing - The RIAA served two subpoenas on Verizon, seeking to identify two subscribers who allegedly offered hundreds of copyrighted songs available for download through the KaZaA peer-to-peer file sharing system. RIAA invoked a provision of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act that authorizes such subpoenas. RIAA objected, and appealed from an order enforcing the subpoenas on the ground that the DMCA does not allow subpoenas where the copyrighted files remain on the subscriber's own computers, and that the law was unconstitutional because it permitted subpoenas to be issued by a court's clerk rather than requiring the copyright owner to file a lawsuit against the subscriber and seek discovery under John Doe procedures.

Public Citizen submitted an amicus curiae brief arguing that the statute incorporates the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which have, in turn, been construed to require notice and an opportunity to argue that the right of anonymous speech outweighs the right to identify alleged wrongdoers in particular cases. Because the statute indirectly requires notice, and because notice was in fact given and on the facts of the case the balancing test does not justify withholding the identities, Public Citizen argued that the decision should be affirmed. The court of appeals, however, reversed because that the district court had not construed the statute correctly.