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.