A US senator has introduced a bill that would prevent copyright holders compelling ISPs to reveal names and information about subscribers suspected of copyright infringement without first filing a civil lawsuit.

The bill was introduced yesterday by Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican. It comes as the music industry battles with some ISPs and privacy advocates over its tactic of filing subpoenas to require service providers to provide data on users suspected of illegal file-downloading.

The proposed legislation, titled the 'Consumers, Schools, and Libraries Digital Rights Management Act of 2003', responds directly to ongoing litigation between the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and ISPs Verizon Services and SBC Communications, Brownback said.

The RIAA has filed 1,600 informational subpoenas in recent months in a nationwide campaign to track down illegal file-sharers. The subpoenas, permitted under a provision of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), have come under fire from groups claiming that the method invades user privacy.


The US Congress is examining the legality of the subpoena provision of the DMCA. Senator Orrin Hatch earlier this month questioned the RIAA's subpoena campaign and asked the music industry to come up with a different way to pursue copyright infringers. Hatch's comments came one day after the RIAA announced it was suing 261 individuals accused of illegally downloading music – one of which was a 12-year-old girl.

Brownback's bill would require copyright holders to file a civil lawsuit before obtaining information on suspected infringers instead of just filing a subpoena with a court clerk, making pursuing suspected illegal file traders more costly and time-consuming.

Currently, all that is required to obtain the name and address of an individual is that the person or group making the request identify themselves as a copyright owner and file a one-page subpoena request with a clerk of the court, along with a declaration swearing that a subscriber is pirating your copyright, Brownback said. Then the ISP has no choice but to divulge the identifying information of the subscriber, he added.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is supporting the bill, said that it would also require clear labeling of CDs, DVDs and software that have digital rights management restrictions. In addition, the bill preserves the right to donate digital media products to libraries and schools and limits federal regulators' ability to impose technical mandates on digital television providers, the EFF said.

Brownback's bill recognizes that the federal government must act to protect the rights of law-abiding consumers and innovators, EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said in a statement.

RIAA president Cary Sherman defended the subpoena process, saying the subpoenas and the 261 lawsuits his organization filed against alleged music uploaders on September 8 are one tool in an effort to educate Internet users that downloading copyrighted music is illegal.