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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - SBC Communications Inc. . said on Thursday it had filed suit to stop a flood of recording-industry court orders that seek to track down Internet users who might be illegally copying music.
SBC subsidiary Pacific Bell Internet Services sued the Recording Industry Association of America (news - web sites) in federal court in San Francisco, saying the music industry trade group has been overzealous in its pursuit of suspected song-swappers.
The RIAA has issued more than 1,000 subpoenas to SBC and other Internet providers over the past few weeks, seeking to find the names of those who use "peer to peer" services like Kazaa and Morpheus to copy music, movies and other files from each others' hard drives for free.
The trade group says a digital-copyright law requires Internet provider to comply, and a federal court in Washington agreed this spring.
But an SBC spokesman said that ruling has opened the floodgates to hundreds of questionable subpoenas from anybody who claims that their copyrighted material is being illegally distributed.
Pac Bell has received 207 requests from the music industry to turn over the names of some of its customers, one request from a pornography company for the identities of 59 customers, and more than 16,000 warnings from an independent copyright investigator, the company said in its suit.
"The action we are taking is intended to protect the privacy rights of our customers," SBC spokesman Larry Meyer said.
"It's about the fact that anyone can without any effort obtain one of these DMCA subpoenas," said Meyer, referring to the 1998 Digital Music Copyright Act.
The RIAA said it had already settled such questions in a court battle with Verizon Communications earlier this year. Verizon is currently appealing that decision.
"Pac Bell is simply recycling many of the same arguments already raised and twice rebutted by a federal court," an RIAA official said. "It's unfortunate that they have chosen to litigate this, unlike every other ISP (Internet service provider) which has complied with their obligations under the law."
Meyer said the Verizon decision only contemplated whether the subpoenas should be issued or not and did not address how they should be handled. For example, the RIAA has filed all its subpoenas in Washington even though Pac Bell is based in California, he said.
Also named in the suit were San Francisco pornography firm Titan Media and copyright investigator MediaForce.
RIAA members include AOL Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Music; Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE - news) (news - web sites).'s Sony Music; Vivendi Universal's Universal Music Group; Bertelsmann AG (news - web sites)'s BMG; and EMI Group Plc (news - web sites) .