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U.S. Backs Industry in Web Music Case

The Bush administration is siding with the recording industry in its court fight to force Internet providers to disclose the identities of people who are illegally trading songs over the Web.

A Justice Department brief, filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, supports the effort by the Recording Industry Association of America to force Verizon Internet Services Inc. to identify a subscriber suspected of offering more than 600 songs from well-known artists.

Verizon has asked a federal judge to halt a subpoena for the subscriber’s identity, arguing that it violates the First Amendment because it does not provide “protection of the expressive and associational interests of Internet users.”

The subpoena was sought by the music industry under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows companies to force disclosure of Internet users’ names without a judge’s order.

The Justice Department filing said the subpoena was legal and no First Amendment protection would be violated through disclosure of the name. The Justice Department brief contends that upholding copyright law itself would “promote First Amendment ideals.”

The subpoena, the brief adds, “targets the identity of alleged copyright infringers, not spoken words or conduct commonly associated with expression.”

A federal judge will now have to decide the constitutional issue, which is viewed as an important test of the 1998 law’s applicability in Internet copyright cases.

Matt Oppenheim, senior vice president of business and legal affairs at the RIAA, said Friday: “The government’s filing today supports the proposition that we have long advocated – copyright owners have a clear and umambiguous entitlement to determine who is infringing their copyrights online, and that entitlement is constitutional. Verizon’s persistent efforts to protect copyright thieves on pirate peer-to-peer networks will not succeed.”

The Justice Department filing comes as the recording industry is expanding its fight against illegal Internet content swapping. The RIAA earlier this month filed lawsuits against four college students who allegedly offered more than 1 million copies of popular recordings.

Those lawsuits, filed in New York, New Jersey and Michigan, demand that the sites be shut down and that the RIAA be paid damages of up to $150,000 per song.

Recording and movie industry groups teamed up in February to send a brochure to Fortune 1000 corporations suggesting that they warn employees against using company computers to download copyrighted content from the Internet.

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