Judge Denny Chin ruled that the First Amendment does not protect the anonymity of uploaders of copyrighted files on a p2p system Sony Music Entertainment Inc v. Does 1-40, 04 Civ. 473 (pdf). Sony will be able to obtain from Cablevision the identities of 40 users of the FastTrack p2p network who shared files using their cable modems. The First Amendment does not protect anonymity in this case:
Anonymus speech, like speech from identifiable sources, does not have absolute protection. The First Amendment, for example, does not protect copyright infringement, and the Supreme Court, accordingly, has rejected First Amendment challenges to copyright infringement actions.
While the use of P2P to download, distribute, or make available for distribution copyrighted sound recordings, without permission, is an exercise of speech, that speech is not uniquely expressive enough to deserve the protection of anonymity and thwart the interests of copyright owners.
The discovery request was allowed because: this is a prima facie claim of copyright infringement; the discovery request is sufficiently specific to obtain the desired information (defendant's identities); no alternative means exist to obtain subpoenaed information; central need for subpoenaed information in order to the case to proceed; defendants have minimal expectation of privacy.
Tech Law Advisor: Up/Downloaders Identities Not Protected by First Amendment
The court in finding against the Doe defendants found that although the First Amendment's protection extends to the internet, it does not protect copyright infringement. See e.g. Harper & Row and Universal v. Reimerdes. Nor does anonymous speech enjoy absolute protection.
News.com: Judge: RIAA can unmask file swappers
This ruling is the latest decision to clarify what legal methods copyright holders may use when hunting down people who are trading files on peer-to-peer networks. Courts have spent the last few years grappling with how to reconcile Americans' right to be anonymous with the entertainment industry's own right to sue people who violate copyright law.
Ernest Miller: RIAA Subpoenas for John Does Valid
Although this is a decision by a single district court, it is likely to be persuasive in other courts though it isn't binding.... The most important argument involved the First Amendment right to anonymity of the file sharers. While the judge recognized the First Amendment interest, he concluded that it was not sufficient to protect anonymity for filesharing of copyrighted files without any additional speech. This was the right decision.
*read to the tune of "doe, a deer, a female deer"