Amid an escalating debate over the enforcement of copyrights online, a U.S. senator has introduced a bill that would prevent copyright holders from compelling Internet service providers (ISP) to reveal names and information of subscribers suspected of infringing without first filing a civil lawsuit.
The bill, introduced Tuesday by Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican, comes while the music industry is locked in a battle with some ISPs and privacy advocates over its tactic of filing subpoenas to require service providers to provide data on users suspected of illegal file downloading.
The proposed legislation, titled the Consumers, Schools, and Libraries Digital Rights Management Act of 2003, responds directly to ongoing litigation between the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA) and ISPs Verizon Services Inc. and SBC Communications Inc., Brownback said in a statement Tuesday.
The RIAA has filed some 1,600 informational subpoenas in recent months in a nationwide campaign to track down illegal file sharers. The subpoenas, which are permitted under a provision of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), have come under fire from groups claiming that the method invades user privacy.
The U.S. Congress is currently examining the legality of the subpoena provision of the DMCA, prompted by the legal retaliation of Verizon Services Inc. after it was forced by a district court to reveal the identity of four of its subscribers in June.
Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, earlier this month questioned the RIAA’s subpoena campaign and asked the music industry to come up with a different way to pursue copyright infringers. Hatch’s comments came one day after the RIAA announced it was suing 261 individuals accused of illegally downloading music.
Along with Verizon, some universities, privacy advocates and individual users have also been battling the RIAA’s efforts. Brownback’s bill would require copyright holders to file a civil lawsuit before obtaining information on suspected infringers instead of just filing a subpoena with a court clerk, making pursuing suspected illegal file traders more costly and time consuming.
Currently, all that is required to obtain the name and address of an individual is that the person or group making the request identify themselves as a copyright owner and file a one page subpoena request with a clerk of the court, along with a declaration swearing that a subscriber is pirating your copyright, Brownback said. Then the ISP has no choice but to divulge the identifying information of the subscriber, he added.
San Francisco privacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is supporting the bill, said that it would also require clear labeling of CDs, DVDs and software that have digital rights management restrictions. In addition, the bill preserves the right to donate digital media products to libraries and schools and limits federal regulators’ ability to impose technical mandates on digital television providers, the EFF said.
Brownback’s bill recognizes that the federal government must act to protect the rights of law-abiding consumers and innovators, EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said in a statement.
Representatives for the RIAA weren’t immediately available to comment on the bill Wednesday.