Charter files suit against RIAA

Charter Communications has filed a lawsuit in an effort to bar the Recording Industry Association of America from obtaining the identities of its cable customers that have allegedly traded songs illegally online.

The cable company on Friday filed a “motion to quash” the RIAA’s requests for the names of 150 Charter customers who the trade group claims violated copyright law when they allegedly shared song files in peer-to-peer communities such as KaZaa. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in St. Louis, where Charter is based.

The move makes Charter the first cable company to fight the RIAA in a courtroom over its campaign to target peer-to-peer song swappers with lawsuits. This summer, the RIAA filed 261 lawsuits against individuals that it claimed had violated copyrights belonging to its member companies. Those individuals’ identities were obtained through subpoenas sent to Internet service providers (ISPs) and cable Internet suppliers. Like Charter, ISPs including Verizon Communications and Pacific Bell Internet Services (PBIS) have fought the subpoenas in court.

“We feel it’s our responsibility to exercise our legal rights to protect the legitimate interests of our customers,” said Anita LaMont, Charter spokeswoman. “And it’s consistent with Charter’s privacy policy.”

She added that Charter sent letters late last week to the 150 customers whose identities were sought, in an effort to notify them that they are targets of the RIAA and that Charter is making legal objections to the RIAA’s requests.

The RIAA responded by saying that the subpoenas it filed comply with the letter of the law.

“Charter’s filing is only procedural in nature and directly contradicts its past statement that it would ‘fully cooperate’ with the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) information subpoenas,” an RIAA representative said.

“None of this changes the underlying fact that when individuals engage in copyright infringement on the Internet, they are not anonymous, and service providers must reveal who they are,” the RIAA representative said.

Outside of service providers, the RIAA is facing opposition from several nonprofits in its legal campaign against alleged file swappers. The American Civil Liberties Union filed court documents in recent weeks accusing the RIAA of illegally using thousands of subpoenas to unmask alleged copyright infringers. Specifically, the ACLU said that the recording industry’s subpoenas, filed under the DMCA, violated due process and constitutional rights shielding Internet users’ anonymity.

The American Library Association and other library organizations also criticized the RIAA’s attempts to shut down peer-to-peer networks through a lawsuit currently before a federal appeals court in California.

At least one ISP has lost its motion to prevent the RIAA from obtaining subscriber identities. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the DMCA was constitutional in Verizon’s case against the RIAA. That case is on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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