SBC Communications has joined a battle with the recording industry in a lawsuit that questions the constitutionality of the industry’s effort to track online music swappers.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in a U.S. district court , SBC unit Pacific Bell Internet Services alleges that many of the subpoenas served against it by the Recording Industry Association of America were done so improperly.
The suit also calls into question some sections of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a federal law that the RIAA contends supports its legal actions. A spokesman for SBC said the RIAA’s use of the DMCA in its hunt for online song-sharers interferes with customer privacy.

“The action taken by SBC Internet Services is intended to protect the privacy of our customers,” said an SBC spokesman. “Misapplication of DMCA subpoena power raises serious constitutional questions that need to be decided by the courts, not by private companies which operate without duty of due diligence or judicial oversight.”

Pac Bell claims that more than 200 subpoenas seeking file-sharers’ e-mail addresses were issued from the wrong jurisdiction. And the recording industry’s demand for information on multiple file-sharers cannot be grouped under one subpoena, and that the demands themselves are overly broad, Pac Bell said.

In the complaint, Pac Bell maintains it acts only as a “passive conduit” for the activity of its subscribers and “does not initiate or direct the transmission of those files and has no control over their content or destination.”

The recording industry disagreed.

“We are disappointed that Pac Bell has chosen to fight this, unlike every other ISP which has complied with their obligations under the law. We had previously reached out to SBC to discuss this matter but had been rebuked,” an RIAA statement said.

“This procedural gamesmanship will not ultimately change the underlying fact that when individuals engage in copyright infringement on the Internet, they are not anonymous and service providers must reveal who they are,” the RIAA said.

Pac Bell is seeking a declaration that the subpoenas are overly broad in scope and should have been issued from a California district court, not the District of Columbia. The complaint also seeks a jury trial.

The recording industry has gotten nearly 900 subpoenas against computer users suspected of illegal online music-file sharing. The RIAA is trying to compel some of the largest Internet providers, such as Verizon Communications and Comcast Cable Communications, to identify those users.

The RIAA said it expects to file several hundred lawsuits seeking financial damages within the next two months.

Verizon has challenged the constitutionality of such copyright subpoenas. Arguments in the appeals court are set for Sept. 16.