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Verizon Made Offer to Name Some Names

January 31, 2003|Jon Healey | Times Staff Writer

Verizon Communications Inc. has portrayed itself as the great protector of consumer rights in its legal battle with the giant music companies, declaring that no one accused of piracy should lose the right to privacy.

Unless, of course, Verizon can help its case by naming a few names for the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

"Verizon will use every legal means to protect its subscribers' privacy," Deputy General Counsel John Thorne said Thursday in a news release.

But in negotiations with the RIAA last week, Verizon offered to give up some customers' identities, both sides said. In exchange, Verizon asked the RIAA to support its motion to suspend a ruling by U.S. District Judge John D. Bates to force the nation's largest local phone company to reveal the name of an alleged music pirate. Verizon has appealed.

Thorne said the company made the offer to the RIAA because it's crucial that Bates' ruling not go into effect. If it does, Internet service providers could face an avalanche of subpoenas from those claiming their copyrights were violated online, Thorne said. Verizon also maintains that if Bates' ruling holds, it and other ISPs might have to reveal customer names, addresses and phone numbers to spammers and stalkers.

Among other compromises, Thorne said, Verizon offered to forward letters to customers accused of piracy rather than identify them, and to comply with a limited number of RIAA subpoenas -- say, several hundred.

In other words, Verizon was proposing to sacrifice a few customers' privacy to protect many more.

The idea went nowhere, Thorne said, because the RIAA wouldn't accept any limits on subpoenas. In fact, he added, the RIAA proposed an electronic way to speed the identification of subpoenaed customers.

An RIAA official said Verizon seemed most worried about "just how many infringers we thought were on the Verizon network, because they were so concerned about the volume of what they would face."

The official asked that his name not be disclosed.

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