Senate to hold hearings on DMCA clause

— 7:18 AM on June 23, 2003

It looks like US Senator John McCain will be holding hearings to discuss a clause in the DMCA that allows copyright holders to subpoena the personal information of alleged copyright infringers with only the permission of a court clerk. The RIAA has argued that these "administrative subpoenas" are an essential tool in its war against music piracy, but privacy advocates are quick to point out that there's just too much room for abuse:

Critics, including Verizon, said the DMCA makes it too easy for anyone claiming to be a copyright holder to claim a suspected violator and get the name, address and phone number of an ISP subscriber. The DMCA provision could be misused by stalkers or kidnappers to track down the names and addresses of victims, Verizon has argued.
To its credit, RIAA has fired back at the critics and questioned just how much privacy a peer-to-peer user can expect if they're already opening up a file library for download. However, since users can tightly control just how much of their personal files are available for download, I'm not so sure the RIAA's rebuttal will go very far.

At the very least, it's encouraging to see the government taking a closer look at one of the DMCA's more controversial clauses. Copyright holders should be required to meet some standard of proof that they own the rights to a particular work and that a specific ISP user is violating that copyright before any ISP should be obligated to release a subscriber's name. Having a clerk rubber stamp subpoenas isn't enough, but I'm not so sure I'd want to see the legal system burdened with a swarm of P2P piracy cases, either. Let's hope these hearings can find a middle ground that copyright holders and privacy advocates can both be happy with.

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