For years people have claimed that the RIAA has been using extortion and racketeering methods in the witch-hunt-like way that it has gone after people whom it claims have downloaded music illegally - “defendants” who include children, people who don’t own computers, and even dead people (downloading from the afterlife requires a heck of a strong wifi signal!)
Now, an extraordinarily courageous woman, Tanya Andersen, of Beaverton, OR, has had enough of the three years of intimidation she and her young daughter have been subjected to by the RIAA and its partners. Tired of the baseless accusations leveled against her, the intimidation, and the increasing threat of financial ruin, Ms. Andersen fought back, filing last week an amended complaint in her class action, detailing some of the RIAA abuses. If these allegations are found correct, the RIAA and their agents MediaSentry and Settlement Support Center planned and executed nothing less than an elaborate protection racket, conducting illegal investigations and computer searches, filing sham lawsuits and using threats of financial ruin to intimidate individuals into settling, even when they are innocent.
(Perhaps this was their business plan for how to recoupe the losses which they feared a move to an Internet-based model of music distribution was going to wreak on their bloated coffers, as more and more artists go independent rather than being chewed up and spat out by the machinery of the RIAA’s largest houses - a machine well-oiled by the blood, sweat and tears of those artists.)
But back to Ms. Andersen’s class action lawsuit against the RIAA.
Imagine yourself standing in the kitchen one morning, sipping orange juice and waiting for the coffee machine to finish percolating. Going through your mail you find a letter from a law firm, telling you that you’ve been caught downloading copyrighted music from the Internet; that the evidence establishing your unquestionable guilt has already been secured; and that you have 10 days to contact the “Settlement Support Center” to make reparations for your unpardonable actions; and, finally, if you fail to pay the defined amount - which could be hundreds of thousands of dollars - to make good your breach of copyright, a federal law suit will be filed against you. Wouldn’t that shake the last remnants of sleep out of your head?
An estimated 30,000 of these lawsuits have been filed, and many more people have received such letters, in the RIAA’s attempts to retain for the Big 4 record companies (Atlantic, EMI, BMG and Universal) their dominant positions as manufacturers and distributors of recorded music.
[On a side note, over at P2Pnet they have published an email from someone who claims to have discovered who is behind the “Settlement Support Center” that has been playing the role of strong-arm enforcer for the RIAA all these years. According to the email outing the RIAA’s Settlement Support Center published by P2Pnet, the group behind the RIAA’s Settlement Support Center is really a company called the PSC Group. The PSC Group claims that they are “a professional services consulting firm that helps companies withstand the challenges of change. We specialize in the development of solutions that help our clients achieve their strategic business objectives.” The PSC group is headed by CEO Andrew Lauter who, claims PSC, “is best known for his ability to ’size up’ a business problem, ‘demystify’ the new technologies, and to help companies take advantage of today’s business solutions.”]
Anyways, Ms. Andersen received one of these letters from the RIAA’s “Settlement Support Center”, delivered by a process server almost three long years ago. Only in her case, she was the victim of mistaken identity. When she provided details of the person with whom she had been confused, and offered up her hard drive for forensic analysis, the response was an elevated level of intimidation, including attempts to harass Ms. Andersen’s 10-year-old daughter by directly contacting her at their home and at her school. Finally, after a relentless two-year barrage of abuse, the record companies dismissed their case in June 2007. In January 2008 Ms. Andersen was granted the attorney’s fees she’d paid in her defense.
Successfully clearing her name has not come easy; the financial cost can be recouped, but the emotional cost cannot. And for the dead people who have been sued, those who do not own a computer who have been sued, the children who have been sued, conducting a successful defense is a much more difficult or impossible proposition. A senior RIAA spokesperson once said “when you fish with a drift-net, you’re going to catch a few dolphins.” May we point out to the RIAA that this practice is universally reviled, and that line-fishing is now the norm, thanks to the backing of the courts and the public outcry at the harm to innocents. We applaud Ms. Andersen, an innocent and brave dolphin, and hope that her class action will cause the whole truth about the methods and actions of the RIAA and their agents to be laid bare.
So, finally, if you receive one of these letters while sipping your morning orange juice, what should you do? Well, we won’t presume to know your exact situation and tender advice, so you should seek counsel for yourself. We’re reminded, though, of black-suited and white-tied men in patent leather shoes, speaking with marbles in their mouths, and offering protection. “Protection from what?” you ask. Why, protection from black-suited and white-tied men, of course.