A Rockaway, NJ, woman sued by the RIAA for file sharing has countersued on federal racketeering grounds:
- In what legal experts described as a novel strategy, [Michele] Scimeca is citing federal racketeering laws like the one that jailed mob boss John Gotti to countersue record labels that accused her in December of sharing some 1,400 copyrighted songs over the Internet.
….Labels are using “scare tactics (that) amount to extortion” in efforts to extract settlements, Scimeca alleges in legal papers sent to the U.S. District Court in Newark.
“They’re banding together to extort money, telling people they’re guilty and they will have to pay big bucks to defend their cases if they don’t pony up now. It is fundamentally not fair,” Scimeca’s lawyer, Bart Lombardo, said yesterday. The Cranford attorney said he occasionally downloads songs for personal use and sees nothing wrong with that.
….”It strikes me as a very innovative use of the law. Very innovative,” said Gregory Mark, a law professor at the Rutgers School of Law-Newark.
The Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, was enacted in 1970 to prosecute organized crime and help victims seek compensation. But over the years it has been invoked, with varying success, in connection with alleged conspiracies ranging from GOP fund-raising to sexual abuses by Roman Catholic clergy.
AT&T cited the same laws when accusing WorldCom of phone fraud. In a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Organization for Women unsuccessfully used RICO against an anti-abortion group.
That case hinged on an interpretation of the Hobbs act, a 1946 law aimed at thwarting gangsters from extorting interstate truckers. Scimeca’s case also cites the Hobbs act: Paying the music labels would deprive her of money she could spend on interstate commerce, her lawyer explained. Because the so-called extortion papers were delivered via the postal system, and potentially affect Scimeca’s bank account, her countersuit also cites mail- and bank fraud laws.
….Scimeca’s case may raise a valid question: Can labels take collective action against file-swappers? But her lawyer must convince U.S. District Court Judge William Martini that it merits a jury trial, said Mark, the Rutgers professor. “The hurdle is getting to a jury,” Mark said. [NJ.com]
I have said all along this method of intimidating accused file sharers into settling with the RIAA for an average of $3K each, as opposed to facing theoretical damages in the millions and actual expenses of tens-of-thousands in legal fees, was a form of extortion. Now we’ll find out.