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U.S. court nixes Net music subpoenas

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- In a surprise setback for the recording industry, a U.S. appeals court said Friday its methods for tracking down those who copy its music over the Internet are not authorized by law.

The Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group, has sought to force Verizon Communications and other Internet service providers to reveal the names of customers it suspects may be copying music without permission.

The recording industry says the widespread copying of music over the Internet is partially to blame for falling CD sales.

Verizon has argued that existing copyright law does not give the recording industry such authority and its customers' privacy was being violated.

A lower court earlier this year upheld the recording industry's tactics, which have served as the basis for hundreds of lawsuits filed against individual Internet users.

But in a strongly worded ruling, the appeals court sided with Verizon, saying a 1998 copyright law does not give copyright holders the ability to subpoena customer names from Internet providers without filing a formal lawsuit.

"In sum, we agree with Verizon that (the law) does not by its terms authorize the subpoenas issued here," Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote.

Neither Verizon nor the RIAA was immediately available for comment.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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