The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been filing and threatening lawsuits all across America in its war to stop illegal file sharing and piracy of music owned by its partner record labels. Many individuals that have faced litigation from the RIAA in the last several years have settled by paying a few thousand dollars.
Perhaps the most notorious case to date is one that went to trial. Late last year, single mother Jammie Thomas was ordered to pay a cool US$222,000 for sharing 24 songs on the Kazaa file sharing network.
However, another target of RIAA litigation has gone on the offensive with her own lawsuit against the association — though it is her second attempt. Her first lawsuit was mostly dismissed by a federal judge, but she filed an amended suit that likens the RIAA to a “music cartel” and alleges that the RIAA and the organization’s private investigative firm, MediaSentry, conducted “secret private investigations by unlicensed, unregistered and uncertified private investigators.”
Furthermore, the suit alleges that, “These private investigators claim to have illegally entered the hard drives of tens of thousands of private American citizens to look for music recordings stored there. This personal invasion is a crime in virtually every state in the country.”
Class Action on the Way?
Tanya Andersen’s amended case is looking for a class-action lawsuit to go forward on behalf of thousands of Americans that have basically been coerced or extorted by the RIAA into paying settlements, the complaint states, noting that “False claims are made that proof exists of serious copyright infringement by the individual and that the individual owes hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to the RIAA. The Big 4 record companies and the RIAA know that these claims are untrue and that in most cases the individual threatened has not downloaded music or engaged in any copyright infringement.”
Next, the suit alleges, if the RIAA’s “coercion” is not successful, “the Big 4 record companies and the RIAA direct a large stable of lawyers to file baseless and false sham lawsuits against individuals. These bogus actions are filed by the thousands in federal courts around the country.”
The Catalyst to Now
Back in August of 2005, the case, “Atlantic Recording Corp., et al v. Andersen” was the one that got Andersen started down the path of becoming a plaintiff. In that case, Andersen was accused of copyright infringement and told she owed hundreds of thousands of dollars as penalties. While the case was pending, Andersen learned that her case was like thousands of others, and then, on the eve of a summary judgment, the case was dismissed and she filed her countersuit.
According to an August 2007 report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the RIAA has filed, settled or threatened legal action against well over 20,000 individuals since September 2003.
Andersen is represented by attorney Lory R. Lybeck with Lybeck Murphy, LLP, a Mercer Island, Wash., law firm. Lybeck was unavailable for comment by press time.
Key to the case is the idea that the RIAA and MediaSentry may be required to detail its investigative process to see if either organization committed any crimes against individuals. Previously these details haven’t been made public in any court case or filing.
“It is unfortunate that this case continues to drag on after the court previously deemed all of Ms. Andersen’s claims inadequate. We hope to resolve the case in short order,” the RIAA told the E-Commerce Times. The RIAA did not respond to questions of whether the organization or MediaSentry snooped on computers or how either organization figures out whether a person has illegally downloaded songs.
Answers on the Way?
Like in most lawsuits, the results will be difficult to predict. However, there’s one piece to the lawsuit that might stifle future investigation and hinder the RIAA’s legal team.
“The unlicensed investigator issue seems to have them very nervous. They really don’t have an answer to it. The statutes say that if you are collecting evidence for a civil litigation, then you are an investigator and you need a license for that,” Ray Beckerman, an attorney with Vandenberg & Feliu, told the E-Commerce Times.
“Well, they were collecting evidence for civil litigation, so nobody in their right mind is going to say that’s not what they were doing. They’re collecting evidence, handing it over the lawyer, and then putting it in affidavits in those litigations saying what they did, that this is the evidence they collected,” he explained.
“There’s no way to get around the fact they were investigating. The RIAA doesn’t claim that they were licensed, it just claims that that that’s not really investigating and they come up with one stupid argument after another as to why it’s not — but they may wind up going to jail for that,” Beckerman added.