RIAA wins round in file-swapping suit

A San Francisco federal judge moves SBC Communications' lawsuit against the recording industry's file-swapping legal strategy, a potentially significant victory for record labels.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
2 min read
A San Francisco federal judge last week moved the venue for SBC Communications' lawsuit against the recording industry's file-swapping legal strategy, a potentially significant victory for record labels.

The decision, which was released late last Wednesday, transfers a closely watched legal battle over the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) dragnet for online music traders to courts in the nation's capital, where the industry group has already had success.

"We are pleased with the California court's decision to transfer the suit filed by SBC to the District of Columbia," RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement. "Since the DC court has already addressed most of the challenges raised by SBC and resolved them in RIAA's favor, we believe that the decision to transfer the case throws a significant monkey wrench into SBC's case."

SBC sued the RIAA in California courts at the end of July. It contended that the record industry's subpoenas for information on subscribers to Internet service providers were unconstitutional. The RIAA has used the subpoenas it issued to most major Net service providers to identify file traders who allegedly shared copyrighted songs online and has sued more then 300 people for copyright infringement.

The telecommunications company's suit echoes a previous legal tussle between Verizon Communications and the RIAA. Like SBC, Verizon had claimed that the RIAA subpoenas were invalid, since they were not issued in the course of an ongoing lawsuit. In that suit, the Washington, D.C., federal court decided that the RIAA's subpoenas were legal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

SBC says it is considering an appeal of Judge Susan Illston's ruling but noted that her decision did not affect the merits of their challenge.

"This ruling is procedural in nature and does not address the substantive issues we are raising about the recording industry?s continued misapplication of DMCA subpoena power," the company said in a statement. "SBC companies will continue to stand firm and continue our legal action in order to protect the privacy rights of our customers."

Illston also dismissed SBC's related claims against MediaSentry, a company that scans file-trading networks such as Kazaa for copyright violations and contacts ISPs on behalf of copyright owners, and Titan Media, an adult content provider that also sought identities of SBC Internet subscribers.

Illston said neither company actually had a subpoena-based legal conflict with SBC; its lawsuit against the companies was not warranted. MediaSentry had never issued a subpoena for the ISP's information, and Titan withdrew the only one it had sought, after SBC opposed it.