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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Midco Resists Subpoena for Customer Info in Video Piracy Case

Last February, when legislators like Noel Hamiel, Nancy Turbak Berry, and Mitch Fargen (yeah, you, Mitch), threatened to decimate the South Dakota blogosphere with the ill-concieved Blog Control Acts, I offered five counterplans that would better serve the goals of the legislation in protecting citizens from anonymous libel. My first counterplan was to use current law to subpoena service providers like Google and Midco instead of individual bloggers to obtain Web user information in cases of suspected wrongdoing.

I might have overestimated the willingness of Midco to play ball with such a plan:

Midcontinent Communications, an Internet, phone and cable provider in Sioux Falls, is refusing to provide information about an estimated 140 customers who are accused of illegally sharing copies of the film "The Hurt Locker" through peer-to-peer networks.

...The subpoena sent to Midcontinent is asking for the names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and Media Access Control addresses for all the customers whose IP addresses are listed.

...[Midco VP Tom] Simmons also said providing the information would take a lot of work, time and money."We're going to expect some degree of compensation for all of that to jump through all the hoops that they are requiring," he said [Kelly Thurman, "Midco Resists Subpoena in Lawsuit," that Sioux Falls paper, 2010.09.04].

I am pleased to see Midco takes protecting customer information as its default. I am also heartened to see that they are resisting having to act as unpaid police. Midco's resistance to these subpoenas shows one of the major flaws of the thankfully defeated Blog Control Acts: bloggers and nearly anyone at a computer would have had to invest significant amounts of money, time, and study in Internet surveillance and legal advice that would have driven most casual users away from the most free press ever invented.
Update 2010.09.06: David Newquist differs with me (and with prevailing court opinion) about the responsibility for comment-section libel. He agrees with me, however, on the general quality of comment sections, especially on KELO, as refuges for subliterate ad hominem wretches.


  1. Good for midco. I knew they had it in them to take the right position and protect the freest press ever invented.

    I am annoyed at the abusers of LimeWire and other file-sharing services. It's one thing to strip the DRM from music that you bought so you can play it on a non-Apple device. To me access huge amounts of movies and music makes it harder for honest folks to be able to benefit from reasonable definitions of fair use.

    I say let the subpoena stand or fall on its merit. It sounds pretty specific and reasonable to me. It it's valid, the government has my blessing to pay Midco for the information.

  2. I'm with you, Curtis, in having little sympathy for the lawbreakers... and in wanting to see innocent customers and Midco protected from the costs and intrusion of the investigation.

  3. Cory, the "Blog Control Acts" will likely return; I suspect that we'll have to beat them back year after year.

    I'm ready to serve as the Vulcan ambassador to Pierre in this capacity, when the need should arise.

  4. The Blog Federation appreciates and accepts your service, Stan! Keep your warp engines calibrated... and remember that diplomacy sometimes requires photon torpedoes.


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