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Five Years, 30,000 Lawsuits, and Counting

A moment of MP3 silence, please, as we observe the fifth anniversary of the Recording Industry Association of America's massive litigation campaign against peer-to-peer sharing of copyrighted songs. It was five years ago today that the RIAA filed its first round of lawsuits against 261 defendants, observes David Kravets of Wired's Threat Level blog. Today, the number of lawsuits has soared to 30,000 and shows no sign of abating. "We're just barely scratching the surface of the legal issues," Ray Beckerman, the New York lawyer who defends -- and blogs about -- RIAA cases, tells Kravets. "They're extorting people -- and for what purpose?"

Because many of the people the RIAA sues cannot afford to hire a lawyer and defend themselves, many of the cases settle for a few thousand dollars. So common are these settlements that the RIAA has set up a Web site to accept and process settlement payments, much in the same way one would pay a phone or credit card bill. But Kravets' post raises the question of whether the RIAA's campaign has accomplished anything or "shaped up as an utter failure." The RIAA's only jury-trial win, the case against Minnesota mother Jammie Thomas, is expected to be declared a mistrial any day now due to the judge's second thoughts on whether copyright law requires proof of an actual transfer of files, as opposed to simply making them available. In two other cases, the RIAA has lost on the "making available" issue, although it won damages in one of those cases due to the defendant's tampering with his hard drive.

Litigation outcomes aside, the RIAA says the campaign has been successful as a public relations effort, having spawned a "general sense of awareness" that file sharing of copyright music is illegal. But critics condemn the RIAA for both the way it litigates these cases and the way it investigates them. Washington state lawyer Lory Lybeck is leading a prospective class action against RIAA over its "sham" litigation tactics. She tells Kravets that RIAA is setting the price of settlement at a point where defendants can't afford to fight. And Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Fred von Lohmann questions whether the campaign has led to any reduction in file sharing. "If the goal is to reduce file sharing," he said, "it's a failure." Failure or not, the RIAA litigation has yet to download its swan song.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 8, 2008 at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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