Rights Groups Ask Court To Block Movie Industry Subpoenas

June 3, 2010 12:00 am

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ACLU, EFF And Public Citizen File Briefs Supporting Time Warner Effort To Protect User Anonymity

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NEW YORK – Subpoenas seeking the names and contact information of thousands of individual Internet users from their respective Internet service providers (ISPs) violate the individual users’ rights to due process and anonymity, according to friend-of-the-court briefs filed late last night by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Citizen Litigation Group. The briefs support Time Warner Cable’s motion to quash or modify subpoenas it received for information about thousands of users who allegedly downloaded certain movies from the Internet using the BitTorrent file sharing application.

“Members of the movie industry have the right to challenge alleged copyright infringement, but they must do so in a way that upholds the law and individuals’ due process rights,” said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “Lumping thousands of unconnected individuals into a few cases in a court far from where they live, without providing them adequate notice and a real opportunity to challenge the subpoenas, is not that way.”

The subpoenas were issued as part of separate copyright infringement lawsuits filed by one counsel in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Very few – if any – of the defendants, and none of the plaintiffs, live in the District. According to the amicus briefs from the ACLU, EFF and Public Citizen, the individual defendants have no connection to each other besides simply being accused of downloading the same movies using the same software.

The amicus briefs argue that the subpoenas should be quashed because the lawsuits improperly join thousands of unrelated defendants into a single action and were filed in a jurisdiction where few, if any, of the defendants reside. The briefs also argue that the plaintiffs failed to show sufficiently that they had reason to believe the individual defendants did anything wrong before attempting to obtain their identifying information and failed to give the individual defendants notice and an opportunity to challenge the subpoenas.

“Individuals have a presumptive right to speak and view material on the Internet anonymously,” said Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital. “If a party to a lawsuit wants to find out who those anonymous individuals are, it must make an adequate factual showing in a proper court, whether the anonymous individual is accused of copyright infringement, defamation or any other improper conduct. That has not been done here.”

The briefs are available online at: www.aclu.org/free-speech-technology-and-liberty/amicus-briefs-support-time-warner-motion-quash-subpoenas

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