July 27, 2004 | By Donna Wentworth

Judge Unmasks Filesharers, Recognizes First Amendment Interests

A court decision today in a case against people accused of sharing copyrighted files on peer-to-peer networks brought some good news for those concerned about the way the recording industry is pursuing its litigation campaign.

In Sony v. Does 1-40, Judge Denny Chin denied (PDF) a motion to stop the RIAA from obtaining the identities of 40 people who were using the networks anonymously. But at the same time, he affirmed that their First Amendment rights should be factored into the equation.

First, Judge Chin agreed with EFF, Public Knowledge, and the ACLU that people accused of copyright infringement via P2P networks are entitled to First Amendment protection just like everyone else. He applied the same test for subpoenas that reveal the identities of speakers online that has been developed in other cases involving anonymous speech. Second, Judge Chin expressly allowed the individuals sued to later raise the issue of where the case should be filed and whether the defendants should be lumped into the same lawsuit (at least 30 of the 40 people sued do not live in New York where the case was brought).

"While we had hoped that he would prevent the names from being turned over, we are pleased that Judge Chin recognized the important First Amendment interests in anonymous speech and required the plaintiffs clearly to set forth a cause of action before gaining access to defendants' names," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Being accused of copyright infringement does not mean that your rights as a U.S. citizen no longer matter."

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