Supreme Court passes on RIAA, network-sharing cases

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to hear appeals in two cases concerning the right of the entertainment industry to subpoena file-traders and whether telecommunication companies have to share their networks with startup competitors.

In the case involving Verizon Internet Services and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the RIAA sought permission to demand the names of individuals it believed were trading copyright files on the networks of ISPs (Internet service providers) such as Verizon. An appeals court overturned a lower court's ruling in the RIAA's favor last December, forcing the RIAA to continue its practice of filing anonymous "John Doe" lawsuits against file traders.

"This decision means copyright holders and their representatives -- or identity thieves and stalkers posing as copyright holders -- will not be allowed to obtain personal information about Internet users by simply filing a one-page form with a court clerk," said Sarah Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon, in a statement.

The RIAA wanted to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to argue that Verizon must produce the names of subscribers engaged in file-trading, but the appeals court said the DMCA does not apply to peer-to-peer file trading networks. Any requests for personal information from ISPs must continue to be filed in the form of a lawsuit, a method the RIAA has used to identify thousands of suspected file traders over the last year.

Also Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal concerning a court decision that threw out the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's (FCC's) rules for requiring the long-distance phone carriers to share their networks with other service providers.

Long-distance carriers such as AT&T and state regulators had sought a reversal of an appeals court decision throwing out the existing rules that forced the former Bell operating companies such as Verizon Communications and Qwest Communications to share their networks with prospective competitors for local telephone and data services.

The former Bell companies will now renegotiate with the startup service providers for access to their networks while the FCC rewrites its rules governing access to those networks. The new rules are expected to be unveiled by the end of the year.

"Commercially negotiated wholesale agreements are not only possible, but preferable to further litigation and uncertainty," said Steve Davis, Qwest senior vice president for public policy, in a statement Tuesday. Companies such as AT&T believe that rates will rise unless the FCC sets strict rules for access to the Bell companies' networks.

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Tom Krazit

IDG News Service
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