In a victory for the record industry, an American internet provider has handed over the names of four customers accused of illegally copying music over the net.
Online file-sharing blamed for fall in sales of CDs
The Verizon internet service provider (ISP) was ordered to surrender the names to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) by a court of Appeal in Washington.
On Wednesday the court rejected Verizon's request for a delay, pending a final decision in the case.
The ruling removes, at least for now, the anonymity of millions of people in the US who routinely download copyrighted music and films over the internet.
Verizon and the record industry have been involved in a protracted legal battle over the privacy of the ISP's subscribers.
Since last year, the RIAA has been trying to get Verizon to reveal the identity of customers who use peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa.
The record industry body argued that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allowed them to subpoena information about suspected pirates without first seeking a judge's blessing.
The RIAA has said it intends to sent out a significant number of subpeonas.
But it has not yet decided what action to take against the four Verizon customers it accuses of illegal file-sharing.
In theory the DMCA could now be used by any record label or Hollywood studio to more easily identify people who it suspects of swapping pirated files on peer-to-peer services.
But ISPs and privacy advocates say the DCMA is too wide-ranging, providing too much power to copyright holders at the expense of internet users.
Though it released the names, Verizon has said it will fight on.
"We are committing to pursuing the case if necessary to the Supreme Court," said Sarah Deutsch, Verizon's associate general counsel. "The real harm here is to the consumer."
A decisive victory for the recording industry is still some way off as Verizon is returning to the courts in September.
The RIAA blames online music piracy for falling sales of CDs and has been relentless in using the courts to fight people and services suspected of facilitating online song-sharing.