The US Supreme Court declined yesterday to hear appeals in two important cases concerning file-trading over the Internet and network access.
The first was over the right of the entertainment industry to subpoena file-traders; and the second, whether telecommunication companies have to share their networks with start-up competitors.
In the case involving Verizon and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the RIAA sought permission to demand the names of individuals it believed were trading copyrighted files on the networks of ISPs such as Verizon.
An appeals court overturned a lower court's ruling in the RIAA's favour last December, forcing the RIAA to continue its practice of filing anonymous 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 that said the decision was a victory in the "critical legal battle to protect Internet users’ privacy, free speech rights and personal safety".
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.
The decision should clip the RIAA's wings in its worldwide witch hunt for people that use the Internet to swap files - an approach that looks likely to be repeated on this side of the Atlantic.
The Supreme Court also refused to hear an appeal on a court decision that threw out the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC's) rules that require 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 that dismissed the existing rules where former Bell companies (such as Verizon and Qwest) have to share their networks with prospective competitors for local telephone and data services.
The former Bell companies will now renegotiate with the start-up 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. Companies such as AT&T believe that rates will rise unless the FCC sets strict rules for access to the Bell companies' networks.