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Verizon Defends Customer Privacy in Publisher's Suit

The carrier refuses to comply with an order to allow a peek at the personal information of alleged e-book pirates.

Verizon is fighting a move by a book publisher to obtain personal information on ten of its customers accused of illegally sharing electronic copies of books in the popular "Dummy" self-help series.

Among the reasons Verizon cites for refusing to comply with the subpoena served on the telco by attorneys for John Wiley & Sons is that the requested information is "protected  from  disclosure  by  third  parties'  rights  of privacy  and  protections  guaranteed  by  the  First Amendment."

Wiley's lawyers counter that in cases involving alleged copyright infringement, the rights' holders "right to use the judicial process to  pursue  what appear  to  be  meritorious  copyright  infringement  claim" trumps an accused constitutional rights.

New York Federal District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest is expected to hear arguments on Verizon's actions on a conference call scheduled for Monday, May 14, at 2:30 p.m. ET.

In its subpoena, Wiley seeks the personal information of Verizon subscribers whose IP addresses have been linked to illegal downloads from BitTorrent file-sharing sites. Wiley's action appears to be the first time that a bookseller has gone after online book thieves in court.

Typically, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) roll over when lawyers appear on their transoms with court orders for subscriber information on alleged pirates, but Verizon may be showing some initiative and taking advantage of recent judicial decisions casting doubt on the use of IP addresses to nail online buccaneers.

In a case involving alleged copyright infringement of pornographic material through BitTorrent, New York Federal Magistrate Judge Gary R. Brown wrote in his opinion dismissing the litigation, "the assumption that the person who pays for Internet access at a given location is the same individual who allegedly downloaded a single sexually explicit film is tenuous, and one that has grown more so over time."

"[I]t is no more likely that the subscriber to an IP address carried out a particular computer function -- here the purported illegal downloading of a single pornographic film -- than to say an individual who pays the telephone bill made a specific telephone call," he added.

In pursuing BitTorrent users for violating copyright laws, Wiley is deploying a controversial tactic used by the music industry. It's filing thousands of "John Doe" lawsuits. Once it identifies the John Does by prying IP information from ISPs, it offers the alleged infringer a choice of paying a settlement or going to court.

Violators of Wiley's copyrights can pay fines of up to $150,000 if found guilty.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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