I Pledge Allegiance to the Recording Industry Association of America

From this point forth, if the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) should subpoena any "service provider" alleging copyright violations, that service provider must turn over all relevant details about the customer or customers in question without court intervention. In fact, any organization, company or person who holds a copyright can issue such a subpoena: the RIAA was merely the first to do so.

Verizon fought the law and the law won. Verizon, however, was not concerned that copyright holders have become a vigilante group sanctioned by the United States government. Their fear is that it will be trivial for an organization such as the RIAA to issues hundreds of thousands of such subpoenas. Complying with those requests in a timely manner would be virtually impossible and cost exorbitant amounts of money.

Why would the RIAA issue such requests? It would force ISPs to block many types of traffic such as peer-to-peer networks, which are used for file sharing, and instant messaging. Ultimately, it would be cheaper for the industry to adopt technologies that watermark any copyrighted piece of material and for the ISP to control and monitor all traffic going through their networks scanning it for such watermarks. This is exactly what the RIAA wants to see happen, and there is currently legislation before Congress to make it happen.

What you need to know
Should c4.net receive such a subpoena, we have no legal recourse. We must comply with the request and hand over any relevant customer information or we will be held liable. Such infringements may include, but are not limited to:

In fact, in most cases, the service provider will have no way to verify that the infringement actually occurred. After all, it is not technically feasible to keep a copy of all information which passes through our network. We wouldn't want to if we could as that would mean that we'd have copies of copyrighted information in our possession. It would also raise very scary privacy issues.

This opens up several dark possibilities. Imagine a situation in which a woman wishes to avoid an abusive ex-husband. She corresponds with him via e-mail, inquiring about alimony payments. She thinks she's relatively safe, except that the information attached to a message gives him enough to subpoena the ISP, alleging a copyright violation. The ISP has no recourse but to turn over her information to the ex-husband.

Salt in the wounds
Emboldened by recent success and unprecedented power, the RIAA has requested that the government tax Internet Service Providers and turn that tax over to the RIAA. Ostensibly, this would be similar to the Canadian law which places a tax on all recordable, digital media. The government collects this tax and turns it over to the RIAA's Canadian cohort, the Canadian Private Copying Collective.

That can't be possible, right? Well, the RIAA has also asked Congress to extend the Copyright Act of 1976, our version of the Canadian law, to include digital media. Congress extended it in 1992 to include digital tapes, but not CDs or DVDs. DVDs weren't around and there was no easy, cheap way to copy CDs.

There's every indication that Congress will give the RIAA what they've asked for. The tax is placed on the initial purchase of the media. So, in the near future, every time you back up your QuickBooks data file to a CD, the music industry will be $2 richer.

Taxing ISPs is an extension of the same request. Should such a tax be implemented in such a competitive, cut throat market, it will have to be passed directly onto consumers. This brings to mind cell phone bills. Sure, basic service only costs $39 a month, but after adding on all the taxes, the bill is closer to $60 a month.

And if the RIAA gets to tax DVDs and ISPs, what's to stop the Motion Picture Association of America from collecting a tax? Or, for that matter, what about the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, or even the Dog Writers Association of America. Yes, they do exist, and they hold copyrights too.

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