I expect this American court decision to be all over the weblogs soon – not only is it a decision in favour of the music industry, it also represents a clear threat to Internet privacy (or the little of it that remains anyway).
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has convinced a US district court to order Verizon, an ISP, to identify for them a subscriber who had (allegedly) downloaded 600 songs in a single day. Verizon is appealling and has not yet identified him (or her).
A Verizon spokesman suggested that this would allow the RIAA to conduct “fishing expeditions” to find pirates and said that it was in any case possible that the subscriber themselves might not have been responsible for the crime. Perhaps it was a friend passing by? A child in the house?
Well, it seems that the RIAA had in this case identified the pirate uniquely and had some evidence against them so that doesn’t sound like a random fishing expedition to me. The argument that subscribers shouldn’t be held to account over copyright violations is a more interesting one, particularly as wireless Internet access becomes more widespread.
I can certainly imagine a situation where broadband subscribers are held responsible for violations by anyone in their home – that should encourage parents to keep an eye on what their kids are doing online! – but what happens if you make your broadband connection available freely to your neighborhood and a neighbor abuses this? This might have a chilling effect on wireless freenets – or it might encourage those who do share their access to put some kind of monitoring software on their connection to attempt to stop illegal use. Even if not effective, the act of having done it might provide some legal protection…
I would be curious to see what happens if, say, a French AOL user is nabbed next time. Would AOL have to hand them over?