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RIAA Lawsuit Targets Getting Help From Within and Without the Industry

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Downloading music, movies, etc. without the permission of the copyright holder, is, in the broadest sense, unethical. The original Napster, Grokster, and Kazaa have been found legally culpable of facilitating unauthorized file sharing and shut down, which bothers me very little: their business models were built around enabling and encouraging, at best, unethical activity.

BUT, the RIAA’s policy of suing more than 16,000 more or less random file sharers for multiple thousands of dollars each, forcing settlements from 4,000 of their targets thus far in lieu of extended, economically ruinous court battles, is nothing less than a campaign of extortion and economic terror.

Here’s a tale of rebellion from within the industry ranks, as Canadia-based record label and management company Nettwerk Music Group is taking up the cause of an accused file sharer. In August, 2005, the RIAA filed a complaint against David Greubel for alleged file sharing. Greubel is accused of having 600 suspected music files on the family computer. The RIAA is targeting nine specific songs, including “Sk8er Boi” by Arista artist Avril Lavigne, a Nettwerk management client. The RIAA has demanded Greubel pay a $9,000 stipulated judgment as a penalty, though it will accept $4,500 should Greubel pay the amount within a specific period of time.

Nettwerk became involved in the battle against the RIAA after 15 year-old Elisa Greubel contacted MC Lars, also a Nettwerk management client, to say that she identified with “Download This Song,” a track from the artist’s latest release. In an email to the artist’s website, she wrote, “My family is one of many seemingly randomly chosen families to be sued by the RIAA. No fun. You can’t fight them, trying could possibly cost us millions. The line ‘they sue little kids downloading hit songs,’ basically sums a lot of the whole thing up.”

“Suing music fans is not the solution, it’s the problem,” stated Terry McBride, C.E.O of Nettwerk Music Group. “Litigation is not ‘artist development.’ Litigation is a deterrent to creativity and passion and it is hurting the business I love,” insisted McBride. “The current actions of the RIAA are not in my artists’ best interests.” Nettwerk Music Group has agreed to pay the total expense of all legal fees as well as any fines should the family lose the case against the RIAA.

Chicago lawyer Charles Lee Mudd Jr. will represent the Greubels. Mudd has represented multiple individuals who have been sued by the RIAA since 2003. He said, “The RIAA has misapplied existing copyright law and improperly employed its protections not as a shield, but as a sword. Many of the individuals targeted by the RIAA are not the ‘thieves’ the RIAA has made them out to be. Moreover, individual defendants typically do not have the resources to mount a full-fledged defensive campaign to demonstrate the injustice of the RIAA’s actions. Today we are fortunate that principled artists and a management company, Nettwerk Music Group, have joined the effort to deter the RIAA from aggressive tactics – tactics that have failed to accomplish even the RIAA’s goals.”

Also fighting the industry is Patricia Santangelo of Wappingers Falls, NY, who has already spent $24,000 fighting an RIAA lawsuit, despite a settlement offer of $3,500. Santangelo says she never downloaded any songs, and if it was done on her computer by her children or their friends it’s the fault of the file-sharing program that enabled them to do it. Because of the mounting expenses, she had been forced to drop her previous lawyer, and when she appeared in court on Dec. 22 as her own attorney of record, a lone babe in the legal woods.

But Santanelo too found an angel. Jon Newton, of “The Recording Industry vs The People” blog, said yesterday Thursday that $5,699.63 had been raised online for Santangelo in a campaign he started. That money has enabled her to hire a new attorney.

Newton told the AP by e-mail that the contributions have come from “ordinary kids, musicians, students, moms, dads, writers, waiters, programmers, bus drivers, artists.”

“We’re trying to help Patti take on what’s become the common enemy – the corporate music industry, with its bottomless pockets and legions of lawyers,” he said.

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About Eric Olsen

  • FYI

    The idiot wannabe biglaw firm representing the RIAA in these ridiculous suits is Shook, Hardy & Bacon. Every week hundreds of new cases are filed by Shook, Hardy against average joes. Most elite firms wouldn’t represent the RIAA on this, but this firm wanted the cash and the RIAA wanted the lower rates (their HQ is in KC, MO).

    Don’t like this sleazy wannabe big law firm doing this? Let them know.

    The head of their IP department is Mike Gross. Give him a piece of your mind at mgross AT shb.com (you need to put in the @ sign)

    A top associate there is Jesse Camacho. Give him a piece of your mind on this at jcamacho AT shb.com (you need to put in the @ sign)

    Flood them with e-mails on how it’s despicable for a firm that wishes to have a good rep in IP to represent the RIAA. It’s a disgrace and extremely unprofessional.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    interesting how there’s unethical behavior at the opposite extremes of this issue.

    i’ve always been against the tactics of the riaa and major labels, thinking they more or less completely miss the point on downloading.

    on the other hand (and you can see this in the commentary about downloading not being the end of the music industry) i’m not so fond of the attitude that everything must be free.

  • Bliffle

    Maybe Ford Motor Company oughta sue some of their old customers who switched to Toyota to force them to either pay for a Ford or buy one.

  • FYI

    “on the other hand (and you can see this in the commentary about downloading not being the end of the music industry) i’m not so fond of the attitude that everything must be free.”

    I’m not either, but instead of truly seeing the huge revenue streams that can come from legal downloading (itunes is one great example), the RIAA is just hell-bent on extorting average joes who get “Free” music. It’s not like other civil lit where the plaintiff is trying to get rich: instead they are trying to ruin people, to beat them down.

    I am shocked that with all this RIAA crap it doesn’t dawn on the RIAA to have the labels under it sell CD’s cheaper or to urge them to set up sites where you can buy songs cheap.

    The RIAA thinks that stealing $3k from a joe schomo is going to make them buy $15-20 CD’s, but in fact all the RIAA is doing is making people less accepting of purchasing CD’s.

  • Eric Olsen

    I have thought all along the answer was to license sharing at the pipeline, divide the proceeds a la ASCAP/BMI, and then let people do what they want.

    It astonishes me that the majors want to RAISE the price to iTunes, etc. in the face of relative success there. Do they think people will buy MORE music if the price goes up? It’s insane

  • Richard Allen

    How about equating the RIAA as a racist organization only out to sue white people and force them into buying all the rap and hip hop music so the music business won’t collapse.

    Hundreds of people here in NYC selling all sorts of MP3’s on DVD and hard drives and on Ebay…yet not a single black person gets sued!

    20 white high school kids in rural Michigan…why not 20 black kids in Harlem or South Central….NEVER HAPPEN!

    Notice only WHITE colleges………name me one black college that belongs to the United Negro college fund.. that got sued?????????

    Or that Black DJ who got into a fight and arrested in Pittsburgh…..all illegal music and a multi-op….but where is the RIAA???? out to lunch!

    I would love to use this as a defense and demand discovery of their documents who they sued by race, location, and how much they settled for…!!!!!

    And if any of my friends get sued….QUOTAS is QUOTAS, i want an equal amount of black people sued……if that happens Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton will be all over the news saying why are they picking on young black kids????????

    So how do we get the RIAA to start suing black people, lets see some 13 year old black kids on TV and their parents forking over $2500 to the RIAA…..????