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Judge: 'Huge Imbalance' in RIAA Cases

At his blog Recording Industry vs. The People, Ray Beckerman, a lawyer who defends people sued by record companies for unlawful file sharing, has posted a fascinating transcript of a June 17, 2008, motion hearing in Boston before U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner, who is presiding over a number of consolidated RIAA cases. Present at the hearing were several lawyers representing the music industry and a handful of pro se defendants, and Judge Gertner made no bones about pointing out the obvious imbalance:

I've said this before in open court. There is a huge imbalance in these cases. The record companies are represented by large law firms with substantial resources. The law is also overwhelmingly on their side. They bring cases against individuals, individuals who don't have lawyers and don't have access to lawyers and who don't understand their legal rights.

Some category of individuals are defaulted because they read the summons, and they haven't the foggiest idea what it means and don't know where to go, so they're defaulted, and they owe money anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 as a result of these defaults. Sometimes they answer and get counsel, and because the law is so overwhelmingly on the side of the record companies, there's a negotiated settlement which is slightly lower than the settlement the people that are unrepresented have been getting. In other words, with a lawyer, you can get some kind of leverage, but it is a delaying game in some sense.

The transcript also offers a picture into Judge Gertner's efforts to help the unrepresented defendants obtain counsel to represent them:

THE COURT: Mr. Tenenbaum, did anyone get in touch with you? I sent numbers of lawyers your way.
THE COURT: So you have filed a motion to amend your answer to raise a whole host of constitutional issues. I will allow you to amend your answer. I still want to find you a lawyer, I'm not giving up. Did you get a call from an individual named Charlie Nesson or someone from the Berkman Center?
MR. TENENBAUM: No, your Honor.

As for Beckerman, he praises Judge Gertner for recognizing the imbalance in these cases, but takes issue with her assertion that the law is overwhelmingly on the record companies' side. "How can Judge Gertner conclude that the settlements have come about because the law is on the record companies' side," he asks, "when she knows full well that the reason the settlements have come about is that there is no economically viable way for defendants to defend themselves?"

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 30, 2008 at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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