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RIAA Sues Again, A Little More Politely This Time

October 18th, 2003

So, who will be on the list this time? Seeing the RIAA’s last attempt, one would expect some nuns and orphans named in the new offensive. Throw in a few infants and a healthy dose of people who don’t even own computers and they’ll come in at about par.

The RIAA (motto: “Do What We Say Or Another 200 Hostages Get It”) is planning to sue a large group of users again, but this time, they are playing nice (relatively speaking). They are being ever so polite as to send letters first. The missives to the 204 people targeted in this round were sent out over the past week, informing the defendants-to-be that the RIAA has “gathered substantial evidence that you have been using a peer-to- peer network such as Kazaa or Gnutella to download and upload music owned by our clients.”

The RIAA is giving the dastardly criminals ten days to negotiate a settlement (i.e., whatever the RIAA demands they pay) or else they get dragged into court. However, considering that the last round included a 12-year-old girl and several senior citizens, including one who didn’t even own any file sharing software, it is likely that this new batch will have similarly misidentified people. Already, two people from the last groups have challenged the RIAA in court (not counting those the RIAA withdrew their suits against because it was so blindingly stupid of them to accuse the people they did). One is a web page designer named Ross Plank, who claims that the RIAA just plain misidentified him. Mr. Plank is being defended in his case by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Then there is the possibility that the RIAA doesn’t have the legal standing to do what they are doing. Aside from the sheer viciousness of their campaign (they call it a “fear and awe campaign”–seriously), there is the legal questionability about their right to issue subpoenas and access ISP logs.

In a side note, the RIAA is telling the new batch of scapegoats that if they even so much as try to erase any songs from their hard drives, they could be arrested for tampering with evidence. And how, I wonder, could the RIAA possibly (a) prove that songs were deleted after a certain date or before, and (b) get their hands on the computers in any case? Do they now assume they have sweeping police powers to break down people’s doors and confiscate evidence?

So far, 64 people have settled their suits with the industry, and another 838 people who were not sued have accepted an amnesty deal (which does not even offer to protect them from later lawsuits, and might even open them up to such suits at a later date). Millions of other users are not yet acting–and they may end up justified. This kind of legal scare tactic has been tried before by companies seeking to shake down “pirates.” When HBO was broadcasting by microwave in the late 80’s, a de-scrambling kit with a microwave dish was being sold by a company proudly calling itself a “pirate” outfit . HBO sent people around neighborhoods, and whenever they found dishes at addresses that did not have subscriptions, they sent a letter threatening to sue unless the dish owners paid a settlement. In the end, a large number of people paid up–and then HBO’s case was thrown out of court. (The case was Zimmerman v. HBO Affiliate Group, 1987; see discussion section “e” on this page for a bit more on that. The case was lost on grounds not relevant to the RIAA’s case, but their tactics were very similar.)

This may very well end up the exact same way, in that the abusive acts of the RIAA may end up getting them cash and publicity in the short term, but they are far from winning any case in court, and could very likely be defeated there.

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