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Verizon Asks Judge to Stay Net Ruling

January 30, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Verizon Communications Inc. asked a federal judge Thursday to stay his ruling making it much simpler for the entertainment industry to tie a digital pirate’s online activities to his real-world identity.

Verizon lawyers want U.S. District Judge John D. Bates to wait until a federal appeals court reviews the case before they are forced to disclose the identity of an Internet subscriber suspected of illegally offering more than 600 songs from top artists.

The company previously indicated it will appeal the Jan. 21 ruling, which raised the risks of getting caught for computer users who illegally trade music or movies online.

The Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group for the largest music labels, had sought the user’s identity with a subpoena approved under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The law doesn’t require a judge’s permission for such subpoenas, a central complaint in the dispute.

Verizon’s lawyer, John Thorne, promised Thursday the company will ``use every legal mechanism available to protect the privacy of our subscribers.″

``If this ruling stands, consumers will be caught in a digital dragnet not only from record companies alleging infringement of their copyright monopolies but from anyone who can fill out a simple form,″ Thorne said.

A spokesman for the recording association declined to comment immediately.

Peter Swire, the Clinton administration’s top privacy official, said Thursday he will file legal papers supporting Verizon.

``I have never seen any provision like this,″ Swire said. ``There’s no due process, no judicial supervision. If the court’s order stands, these subpoenas will become a new form of spam.″

Joining in criticism of the judge’s ruling, Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America accused the recording industry of using ``fear and loathing″ in its high-stakes battle against Internet piracy.

In his ruling, Bates acknowledged the case was an important test of new subpoena powers that Congress granted to copyright holders. He said the 1998 law permits music companies to force Internet providers to turn over the name of a suspected pirate upon subpoena from any U.S. District Court clerk’s office, without a judge’s order.

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