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RIAA Furiously Backpedaling – Campaign of Psychological Terror Appears in Danger

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Clearly, the real motive behind the RIAA’s lawsuit campaign isn’t to systematically shut down file sharers one at a time, to extract “justice” from those unlucky enough to get caught up in the net – the real motive is to intimidate and frighten as many sharers as possible into altering their behavior out of concern that they might be next.

The outcry from the general population, the media, and politicians that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, that enforcement is arbitrary, that the wrong people are being targeted, and that the entire DMCA-sanctioned subpoena process is flawed and even unconstitutional from a due process standpoint, appears on the verge of torpedoing the entire ship. Could they really not see this coming?

    The music industry, criticized for its recent wave of lawsuits aimed at stopping song swapping on the Internet, agreed yesterday to contact future defendants before they are sued and give them a chance to pay a cash settlement or argue that they have been mistakenly accused of copyright infringement.

    The shift, announced at a Senate hearing by Mitch Bainwol, chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America, was in response to critics who accused the music industry of casting too wide a legal net over alleged song pirates, ensnaring 12-year-olds and grandfathers alike.

    “We are trying to be reasonable and fair and allow these cases the opportunity to be resolved without litigation,” Bainwol said.

    Bainwol nevertheless defended the industry’s decision to file 261 lawsuits alleging copyright infringement. “The suits are the last resort and the end product of our campaign,” he said. “They are the last thing we had in our quiver.” [Washington Post]

This is patently false – the last thing they have in their quiver is to read the writing on the digital wall and agree to negotiate some kind of blanket licensing deal like they have with radio. The real enemy of their current model isn’t individual music fans, but the P2P systems that enable file sharing, and it appears they will not be able to shut down those systems through the courts.

Does it sound like the justice system should be used this way?

    Yesterday’s hearing also featured look at what it’s like to be sued.

    Lorraine Sullivan said she found out she was being sued when she played her home voice mail on Sept. 9 and it contained messages from four reporters, asking her for reaction.

    She called the RIAA and was referred to Patricia Benson, a lawyer for Los Angeles’s Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, one of the RIAA’s outside law firms. Sullivan testified that Benson told her it would probably cost between $3,000 and $4,000 to settle the suit, and that “nobody likes having to be the heavy.”

    Sullivan told Benson that she had $1,500 in her savings account and was a student with a part-time job. Sullivan said the lawyer asked her if she could get the money from her parents. No, Sullivan, replied. Anyone else? No, Sullivan said.

    Benson finally asked: Do you have credit cards? Yes, Sullivan said, but they’re almost maxed out. Benson said she would ask the RIAA to accept a lesser payment. Two days later, Sullivan said she agreed to settle for $2,500.

    “I won’t be buying any more” CDs, she testified.

This is legalized extortion pure and simple:

“What will it take to make this go way?”
“How much you got? We’ll take it all.”

UPDATE
More from USA Today:

    Coleman said he remained worried about the “heavy-handedness” of the lawsuits, which carried fines of up to $150,000 for each song shared from their hard drives. When asked whether the fines were excessive, Bainwol said they got consumers’ attention and established a deterrent. “Public floggings would get attention, too, but we don’t do that,” Coleman responded.

    University of Virginia ethicist Jonathan Moreno testified the fines “are way out of proportion,” and laws need to be updated.

    Despite the lawsuits, attitudes may be tough to change. In a Gallup Poll out Tuesday, 83% of teens said it’s morally acceptable to download music from the Net for free.

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