The recording industry can't force school systems, universities, or internet service providers (ISPs) to hand over the names of music downloaders, a federal appeals court said Dec. 19 in a major decision shielding online privacy while undercutting the industry's anti-piracy campaign.

The ruling does not legalize the distribution of copyrighted songs over the internet, but it will greatly increase the cost and effort for the Washington, D.C.-based Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to track such activity and sue those who are swapping music online.

The RIAA began filing copyright...

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