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Wired: RIAA Takes Shotgun to Traders

Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by ChargerRay, Oct 6, 2005.

  1. ChargerRay

    ChargerRay Producer/Host of BoltTalk Staff Member Super Moderator Podcaster

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    Hundreds of people are being wrongly sued by the Recording Industry Association of America for illegally trading music online, legal experts say.

    Attorneys representing some of the 14,000 people targeted for illegal music trading say their clients are being bullied into settling as the cheapest way to get out of trouble. Collection agencies posing as "settlement centers" are harassing their clients to pay thousands of dollars for claims about which they know nothing, they say.

    In May, a judge in Michigan dismissed a file-sharing case against Candy Chan, a mother who testified in court that the user name identified in the suit belonged to one of her children.

    In the court report (.pdf), Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff wrote: "Chan opposed the motion and asserted that the plaintiffs used a 'shotgun' approach to pursue this action, threatening to sue all of Chan's children and engaging in abusive behavior to attempt to utilize the court as a collection agency."

    The case was dismissed but last week the record companies filed suit against Chan's child.

    Now others say they are in the same boat as Chan.

    "I don't even know how to download music," said Tanya Andersen, a disabled single mother from Oregon who lives on Social Security benefits. "The user names (they cite) I have never heard of."

    Andersen is one of three single parents claiming to have been erroneously identified as an illegal music trader by a law firm representing RIAA interests, which is seeking more than $1 million in damages -- $750 for each of the 1,400 songs Andersen allegedly shared.

    The RIAA began its litigation campaign in September 2003, resulting in more than 14,000 lawsuits. So far, more than 3,300 parties have settled, which the RIAA says proves the overwhelming majority of those summoned are guilty of stealing copyright files.

    But attorneys representing many of the accused say that's not true. Estimates of how many people are being wrongly targeted for illegal file sharing vary, from hundreds to many more.

    Ray Beckerman, a New York-based attorney with Beldock Levine & Hoffman, put the number in the thousands.

    "My impression is that the majority of those sued are innocent," Beckerman said.

    Andersen wrote to Rep. David Wu (D-Oregon) and offered to surrender her PC to the RIAA for inspection -- to no avail.

    "(The RIAA) says 'We don't care enough about you that we are even going to check,'" said Lory R. Lybeck, Andersen's attorney from Lybeck Murphy of Mercer Island, Washington. "And if ... they have made a mistake, they are not going to apologize or investigate -- they are going to sue you again."

    Dawnell Leadbetter, a Washington-based single mom whom Lybeck also represents, is suing Comcast, her ISP, for disclosing her name and other personal details to the RIAA, which then sued her. She also says the RIAA has confused her IP address with the wrong person.

    Accurately tracking acts of piracy and matching names to IP addresses can be an error-prone process. Many things can go wrong when determining who is actually downloading and uploading copyright files over file-sharing networks, especially when attempting to identify users' names, IP addresses and actual PCs -- let alone the PC's user at the time.

    However, the legal process set in motion by the recording industry is hard to stop -- unless you pay.

    "What really rankled me is the bullying tactics they use, and I don't like bullies," said Beckerman, the New York attorney.

    "Prior to retaining lawyers, when (defendants) talk to the settlement support center, they are threatened with criminal prosecution, ruin of their credit, publication of their names," he said.

    Beckerman is defending Patricia Santangelo, a single mother with five children, against a complaint filed by Elektra Entertainment Group.

    After an agency contacted her to settle claims for having allegedly uploaded at least 1,641 files, Santangelo proclaimed her innocence while representing herself in a federal District Court in New York in May.

    Santangelo then swore under oath that she no longer owned the computer with the IP address allegedly used for illegal uploads and that the screen name corresponding to the Kazaa program used for the uploads belonged to a friend of one of her children and not to anyone in her family.

    An RIAA spokeswoman would not comment on whether it had fairly summoned payments from Andersen or Santangelo or whether it had mistakenly connected them to an IP address used for illegal downloads or uploads.

    However, an RIAA spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement that the RIAA had "complete confidence in the litigations we have filed and in the judicial process to resolve the issues raised in those cases."

    "The message of the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in the Grokster case is clear: Both the businesses that encourage theft and the individuals who download songs without permission can be held accountable," the spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement.

    John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, said the targeting of the lawsuits was far from perfect.

    "Lots of at least scared -- if not innocent -- people are dragged into an unpleasant, clunky process for something that may be illegal but is generally accepted by society as OK," Palfrey said.
     

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