The recording industry s Internet anti-piracy campaign came to a screeching halt last month when a federal appeals court reversed a trial judge s decision which had allowed the industry to enforce a copyright subpoena under a 1998 law that predated music-swapping.
The industry used this subpoena power to raid Internet records to track down illegal music down-loaders.
However, the law “betrays no awareness whatsoever that Internet users might be able directly to exchange files containing copyrighted works,” the court observed, even as the judges said they sympathized with the recording industry.
Lawyers thought the ruling - which could be as temporary as it takes for Congress to amend the 1998 law, or for the U.S. Supreme Court to possibly reverse the appellate court - would have little or no effect on the 382 civil suits the industry has filed over six months.
It will make it pricier and tougher to identify file-swappers. Now they will have to file “John Doe” lawsuits based on Internet addresses, and work through courts to learn whose addresses they are.
A recording group official said this process will make it impossible to contact file sharers and give them a chance to settle before a suit is filed. But it certainly doesn t preclude a subsequent settlement.
In short, this is neither the total victory for the little guy fighting an industry behemoth nor the end of the recording industry s efforts to brake, if not stop, copyright infringements.
The industry s big problem with enforcement is a strong perception among music lovers that the music they buy belongs to them and they can do with it what they wish. Millions of American down-loaders hold this view.
But it s a view that deprives performers and members of the Recording Industry Association of America of profits on their work - profits to which their entitlement is usually assured under copyright laws.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, under which the subpoenas of Internet, and in this case Verizon, records were issued, allowed them to flow from a court clerk s office, without consultation with a judge. Critics say that whatever the recording industry s claims, they cannot be satisfied at the expense of consumer rights, which subpoenas deny.
In all it seems a bit picky. But a lot of money is riding on it. The appellate court s word will not be the last one on this.