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A federal judge has cleared the way for the publisher of GQ magazine to subpoena Google and AT&T in an attempt to learn the identity of a computer intruder who stole unpublished editorial content and posted it online.

Sometime in September, an unknown thief accessed the computer network of Conde Nast and made off with more than 1,100 files containing pictures and editorial content for the December issue of GQ, Vogue and Lucky magazines, according to papers filed in US District Court in Manhattan. A month later, pictures from the GQ issue, which had yet to be published, showed up on photo-sharing site ImageBam, using a links that originated at FashionZag, which is published on Google's Blogger service.

ImageBam promptly complied with a demand by the publisher to remove the links, but a day later, FashionZag published additional content, including various alternative cover shots, under the caption "GQ December 2009: The Rest of It."

The stunt, Conde Nast attorneys argued "was willfully done by defendants to thumb their noses at Conde Nast and the copyright law in response to" the takedown demand.

Conde Nast employees were able to detect the AT&T IP address used to access the material. They requested permission for immediate access to Google and AT&T records that will identify who was behind the intrusion.

The case is the latest to test the line between user privacy and the rights of content owners and network operators. While federal laws generally require subpoena recipients to give up identities of people accused of network trespass, publishers are in some cases protected. If the person behind FashionZag can argue the content was obtained legally, he may be able to argue he shouldn't be identified.

Whether Google intends to give the user an opportunity make such a case before identifying him is another matter. We've put in a request to Google and will update this story if we hear back. ®

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