For years BitTorrent sites have remained untouched by the RIAA’s legal battles, but recent court filings indicate that this may change. After settling their dispute with LimeWire earlier this year the RIAA is now targeting several BitTorrent indexers. The record industry group has filed a complaint at the U.S. District Court of Columbia and has obtained subpoenas to reveal the identities of individuals behind three large torrent sites.
Historically the RIAA’s litigation campaigns have focused mainly on individual file-sharers and P2P-software and services such as LimeWire.
Unlike their counterparts at the MPAA, BitTorrent sites have not been prime targets for the recording industry association’s lawyers. However, recent court filings obtained by TorrentFreak show that the RIAA might have just changed course.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has granted a request from the RIAA to subpoena the privacy protection services utilized by three large torrent sites. The site owners use these services to hide their personal details from otherwise publicly available WHOIS domain records, but the RIAA wants to know who they are dealing with.
The targeted sites are Monova.org, Bitsnoop.com and Limetorrents.com, which all have hundreds of thousands of daily visitors. According to the RIAA, these sites are infringing on the copyrights of many artists.
“We believe your service is hosting the above-referenced website on its network. This website offers direct links to files containing sound recordings for other users to download by such artists as Lady Gaga, Micheal Jackson, Coldplay, Madonna and Kanye West,” the RIAA writes in a letter to Whoisguard.com.
“As stated in the attached subpoena, you are required to disclose to the RIAA information sufficient to identify the infringer. This would include the individual’s IP-address and e-mail address,” the RIAA adds.
One of the torrent site operators targeted by the RIAA told TorrentFreak that the subpoena comes as a surprise. He always responded swiftly to RIAA’s DMCA requests while the court documents suggest that he hasn’t been cooperative at all.
“The RIAA has sent us several DMCA requests in the past and we always honored these,” Bitsnoop’s owner informed us. “Apparently that wasn’t enough, so now they pull this stunt.”
At this point it is unknown what the RIAA is planning to do once they obtain the personal information of the site’s owners. Although it could theoretically be the beginning of a full-fledged litigation campaign against the torrent sites, it seems more likely that the subpoenas will be used to pressure and threaten operators.
During the past year several music industry associations in Europe and Asia have sent requests to domain registrars with a similar objective. The ultimate goal is to make it harder for BitTorrent site operators to continue their business by putting pressure on them, and the companies that provide services to these sites.
A good example is the following sentence in the letter to Whoisguard.com, which goes far beyond the attached subpoena for information.
“We are asking for your immediate assistance in stopping this [linking to torrent files] unauthorized activity. Specifically, we request that you remove the infringing files from the system, or that you disable access to the infringing files, and that you inform the site operator of the illegality or his or her conduct.”
Whatever the true motivation of the RIAA is, with the recent news about domain seizures, extradition requests and these recent subpoenas, operating a BitTorrent site has become a stressful job. Whether this will have the desired outcome for the music industry group in the long run remains to be seen.
TorrentFreak asked the RIAA to comment on our finding but we have not received a response.