RIAA -- The Non-Ethics of Thuggery
Consider this recent article (excerpted from AP):
'Internet-illiterate parent' fights downloading lawsuit
WHITE PLAINS, New York (AP) -- It was Easter Sunday, and Patricia Santangelo was in church with her kids when she says the music recording industry peeked into her computer and decided to take her to court.
Santangelo says she has never downloaded a single song on her computer, but the industry didn't see it that way. The woman from Wappingers Falls is among the more than 16,000 people who have been sued for allegedly pirating music through file-sharing computer networks.
"I assumed that when I explained to them who I was and that I wasn't a computer downloader, it would just go away," she said in an interview. "I didn't really understand what it all meant. But they just kept insisting on a financial settlement."
The industry is demanding thousands of dollars to settle the case, but Santangelo, unlike the 3,700 defendants who have already settled, says she will stand on principle and fight the lawsuit.
"It's a moral issue," she said. "I can't sign something that says I agree to stop doing something I never did."
If the downloading was done on her computer, Santangelo thinks it may have been the work of a young friend of her children. Santangelo, 43, has been described by a federal judge as "an Internet-illiterate parent, who does not know Kazaa from kazoo, and who can barely retrieve her e-mail."
The drain on her resources to fight the case -- she's divorced, has five children aged 7 to 19 and works as a property manager for a real estate company -- forced her this month to drop her lawyer and begin representing herself.
"There was just no way I could continue on with a lawyer," she said. "I'm out $24,000 and we haven't even gone to trial."
So on Thursday she sat alone at the defense table before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Fox in White Plains, looking a little nervous and replying simply, "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" to his questions about scheduling and evidence exchange.
She did not look like someone who would have downloaded songs like Incubus' "Nowhere Fast," Godsmack's "Whatever" and Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life," all of which were allegedly found on her computer.
Jenni Engebretsen, a spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America, the coalition of music companies that is pressing the lawsuits, would not comment specifically on Santangelo's case. "Our goal with all these anti-piracy efforts is to protect the ability of the recording industry to invest in new bands and new music and give legal online services a chance to flourish," she said. "The illegal downloading of music is just as wrong as shoplifting from a local record store."
Jon Newton, founder of an Internet site critical of the record companies, said by e-mail that with all the settlements, "The impression created is all these people have been successfully prosecuted for some as-yet undefined 'crime'. And yet not one of them has so far appeared in a court or before a judge. ... She's doing it alone. She's a courageous woman to be taking on the multibillion-dollar music industry."
Santangelo said her biggest issue is with Kazaa for allowing children to download music without parental permission. "I should have gotten at least an e-mail or something notifying me," she said. Telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment from the Australia-based owner of Kazaa, Sharman Networks Ltd., were not returned.
Her travail started when the record companies used an investigator to go online and search for copyrighted recordings being made available by individuals. The investigator allegedly found hundreds on her computer on April 11, 2004. Months later, there was a phone call from the industry's "settlement center," demanding about $7,500 "to keep me from being named in a lawsuit," Santangelo said.
Judge Colleen McMahon ruled that the record companies had enough of a case to go forward. She said the issue was whether "an Internet-illiterate parent" could be held liable for her children's downloads.
What is the point of going after this woman? SHE did not download the songs. She has already disciplined her children. She ahs already served as a poster child .. so what is the point?
Mere possession of copies of songs is not a crime. The fact the someone (and RIAA knows not who) posted the links to the song collection is not a crime. The downloading might be a crime but there is ZERO EVIDENCE that this lady downloaded anything. Or that her children did. Just that someone did.
So if a storekeeper at the end of a busy post Xmas day finds a counterfeit $50 in his cash register should we prosecute him for passing counterfeit bills? Did he accept one .. it seems so. But where is the evidence that he would knowingly pass one?
The principle is the same. Or if third graders xerox a $5 bill and substitute their own pictures in the middle for Lincoln do we prosecute the parent who gave the child the $5?
RIAA is doing this because they can. It is not just. It reeks of thuggery. And such actions undermine the very ethics of the "illegal downloading" cases they wish to believe have a high moral standard. Yes, thievery is wrong and illegal downloading is theft. But chase the downloaders and their fences, not their mothers.
See http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com/ for more.
(Full Disclosure: Ray Beckerman -- Santangelo's former attorney and current legal advisor -- was my attorney when I lived in NYC.)