MIAMI, Fla. - Alex Rodriguez and Faisal Imtiaz don’t have a dog in this fight, but they’re in the middle of it anyway.
Rodriguez and Imtiaz are two Internet access providers in South Florida. Like many of their counterparts here and around the country, they want to protect the privacy of their subscribers. But right now, Internet service providers are feeling the intrusion of the music industry into their businesses.
The Recording Industry Association of America is cracking down on Internet users who download and swap copyrighted music. The Washington, D.C.-based group has filed nearly 1,000 subpoenas in the past month, asking ISPs to provide the names and addresses of subscribers it suspects are downloading music files illegally.
‘‘I do have an issue with being forced to give up a user’s information,’’ said Rodriguez, president of Miami-based Netrox LLC. ‘‘If I have a court order, I don’t have a choice. Fighting the recording industry could potentially take me out of business.’’
About a dozen major Internet service providers, including America Online, SBC Communications, Earthlink, Charter Communications, RNC and Verizon Communications, have been targeted by the subpoenas.
BellSouth, a major Internet access provider in Florida and in eight other states in the Southeast, says it hasn’t yet received any of the association’s subpoenas demanding subscriber information.
Comcast Cable and Charter Communications, two cable television companies that provide Internet access as part of their slate of cable services, have both received association subpoenas. But the companies wouldn’t comment on whether any customers in South Florida had been targeted.
‘‘To make ISPs responsible for what is on their networks is onerous,’’ said Joseph Marion, executive director of the Federation of Internet Service Providers of the Americas, based in Orlando, Fla.
‘‘It’s like holding the U.S. Postal Service responsible if one consumer mailed a CD to a friend that contained a copyrighted song,’’ he said.
Small, regional ISPs such as SnappyDSL.net and Netrox have not been targeted by the music industry subpoenas so far.
But even before this battle with the music industry erupted into front-page news, ISPs were already the last barrier between the owners of copyrighted material such as video or software and online file swappers who see the Internet as a free-for-all.
Internet service providers have long been thrust into the role of policing their networks. They have been on the receiving end of cease-and-desist orders from software companies and audio and video houses, asking the ISPs to stop users from downloading copyrighted material or making it available on their network.
Imtiaz, who runs Snappy-DSL.net in West Miami-Dade, said the firm gets at least one cease-and-desist order a month.
The usual procedure is for a music or movie company to inform an ISP that copyrightprotected material has been found on its network or on a subscriber’s computer. Then they ask the ISPs to take action.
‘‘If we find illegal activity on our network, we tell our members to stop or we’ll shut them down,’’ Imtiaz said.
He notes that software companies have been far more aggressive in rooting out Internet users offering copies of pirated programs.
‘‘In some cases, the software companies didn’t even send an e-mail first; they just picked up the phone and called,’’ Imtiaz said. ‘‘They weren’t pulling any false punches.’’
Mark Grossman, director of the technology law group at Becker & Poliakoff, a Miamibased law firm, said ISPs have to respond to a subpoena.
‘‘Yet no one has to comply with a subpoena without having the opportunity to have it reviewed by a judge,’’ Grossman said.
Two of the country’s major ISPs have stood up to the music industry association.
Pacific Bell Internet Services, a unit of SBC, filed a lawsuit in federal district court in San Francisco last month, claiming the association’s use of the subpoena provision in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act was improper.
Besides the recording industry association, PacBell’s lawsuit named two other defendants: Titan Media Group, an online pornography producer, and MediaSentry, which does business as Media Force, an online service that combs the Internet looking for users who are downloading massive amounts of data that could be file sharing of copyrighted material.
Titan withdrew its subpoena after it was named in the lawsuit, an SBC spokesman told The Miami Herald.
PacBell said in its lawsuit that it has received ‘‘thousands of notices’’ from MediaForce pertaining to peer-to-peer communications by individual Internet users and not relating to material on its network.
Sharon Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon Communications, said in a telephone interview that PacBell’s experience with MediaForce and Titan Media is exactly the kind of abuse Verizon warned about in court when it opposed attempts earlier this year by the music industry group to get the names of Verizon Internet customers.
Verizon, which is appealing one lost battle with the association in court so far, would be far more comfortable complying with a subpoena that was issued by a judge, not a clerk of the court, Deutsch said.
The recording industry is taking advantage of a provision in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act that requires ISPs to turn over the names of suspected online music swappers once they are presented with subpoenas issued by the clerk’s office at any U.S. District Court.
A spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America said in a telephone interview that it will follow through on its plans to file hundreds of lawsuits against suspected file swappers, starting next month.