WASHINGTON A federal appeals court yesterday rejected a request by Verizon Communications Inc. to delay turning over the names of four of its Internet subscribers suspected of illegally offering free music for downloading.
Verizon officials said the latest legal loss, in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, means the company's lawyers will identify the four subscribers in the next 24 hours to the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group for the largest music labels.
Association officials said they have not decided how they will proceed against those customers or whether they will identify them publicly. The organization's president, Cary Sherman, said the decision "confirms our long-held position that music pirates must be held accountable for their actions."
Yesterday's decision was the latest in a series of court rulings that mean consumers using dozens of popular Internet file-sharing programs can more easily be identified and tracked by copyright owners. Even for consumers hiding behind hard-to-decipher aliases, that could result in warning letters, civil lawsuits or even criminal prosecution.
"Given that an epidemic of illegal downloading is threatening the livelihoods of artists, songwriters and tens of thousands of other recording industry workers who bring music to the public, we look forward to Verizon's speedy compliance with this ruling," Sherman said in a statement.
Verizon said it already has warned its four subscribers, who were accused by the association of illegally offering hundreds of copyrighted songs over the Internet.
"We continue to have concerns about how the RIAA and other copyright owners might abuse this process," said Verizon's associate general counsel, Sarah B. Deutsch. "It doesn't provide sufficient protections for people who may have done nothing wrong."
The association had sought the names of the subscribers under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It permits music companies to force Internet providers to turn over the names of suspected music pirates upon subpoena from any U.S. District Court clerk's office, without a judge's signature required.
Critics of the procedure contend judges ought to be more directly involved, given the potential privacy issues involved when a corporation is asked to reveal personal information about customers over an allegation of wrongdoing.
Verizon has challenged the constitutionality of such copyright subpoenas. Arguments in the appeals court are set for Sept. 16.