U.S. privacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is warning individuals not to admit to illegally trading copyright music online, even if the music industry offers a reprieve from its anti-piracy campaign, saying that users could still be subject to legal action.
The EFF issued a statement Friday in response to several published reports that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was set to launch an "amnesty" program this week, in which it would excuse users who swapped copyright music online if they erased the music from their computers, destroyed all hard copies, and promised not to engage in future online piracy.
"Stepping into the spotlight to admit your guilt is probably not a sensible course for most people sharing music files online, especially since the RIAA doesn't control many potential sources of lawsuits," EFF Staff Attorney Wendy Seltzer said in the statement.
The RIAA, which had been targeting peer-to-peer file trading networks in its efforts to battle online piracy, has recently set its sights on individual file traders. The association has filed over 1,000 information subpoenas, asking Internet service providers (ISPs) and universities to hand over data on users thought to be illegally trading music online.
The stepped-up campaign has sparked concern among some privacy groups, individuals and ISPs that are reluctant to hand over private customer data. Verizon Services, for example, fought for a year to protect the identities of four of its customers but lost its appeal in June.
In August an anonymous Californian woman filed a motion challenging a subpoena asking her ISP to hand over her identity. The case, refered to as the "Jane Doe" motion, was the first time an individual has struck back against the subpoena campaign.
With criticism of the music industry's latest legal tactics increasing, reports surfaced last week that the RIAA would be offering an amnesty program for individual file traders.
An RIAA representative refused to comment on the reports Monday. The group has scheduled a press conference call to announce "anti-piracy initiatives", however.
In addition to RIAA officials, "leaders from throughout the music community" will be participating in the call, an RIAA press advisory said.
The RIAA announcement comes in the wake of news that the U.S. Congress will be holding hearings on the subpoena provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which has been the legal backbone of the RIAA's subpoena campaign.
According to the EFF, 95 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and major ISPs, sent letters to congressional leaders applauding the hearings because of their concerns with the provision, which they say invade the privacy of Internet users without due process of law.
The RIAA, for its part, has held that the 1998 DMCA clearly lays out the right of copyright holders to file subpoenas seeking the identity of alleged infringers.
Addressing the issue recently, Matt Oppenheim, senior vice president of business and legal affairs at the RIAA, said that US courts have already ruled that individuals are not anonymous when they publicly distribute music online.