DOJ Wants Charter Copyright Case Reheard

The Department of Justice wants a court decision reviewed that shielded Charter Communications Inc. from having to reveal the names of high-speed-Internet subscribers allegedly engaged in file-swapping in violation of federal copyright law.

Earlier this year, a panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that Charter had been served with illegal subpoenas for subscriber names by the Recording Industry Association of America. The court said Charter does not have to cooperate if the files are not being stored on its computers.

The DOJ is concerned that the decision created a huge loophole in a law intended to help copyright owners efficiently locate and take action against file-swappers.

“The panel decision in this case divests copyright holders of an enforcement tool that is vital to their ability to respond to this unprecedented theft of intellectual property,” the DOJ said in a Feb. 28 brief.

The agency said the copyright law involved required cable’s cooperation in the effort to tackle violations occurring “on an almost unimaginable scale.”

The government said peer-to-peer software “Kazaa,” from Sharman Networks Ltd., for example, has been downloaded 280 million times and 2.6 billion music files were illegally downloaded each month.

Since the RIAA can’t go after cable companies to get the names of alleged copyright violators, it has resorted to filing so-called John Doe suits to obtain identities -- a longer process than going directly to operators.

“But John Doe suits involve practical difficulties that make them inadequate to the remedy provided in [federal copyright law],” the DOJ said.