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RIAA dumps dodgy detectives

Tactical retreat
Mon Jan 05 2009, 15:24

NOT HAVING actually understood that harassing and suing its customers isn't really a good idea, the Big Music MAFIAA has nonetheless dumped one crew of clowns that was doing the harassing. However, it's not an admission of defeat but just a change of tactics.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the RIAA stopped employing Mediasentry, the company that had provided 'evidence' that the RIAA had used to file lawsuits against people it alleged had unlawfully distributed copyrighted music files.

Based upon information gathered by Mediasentry, the RIAA filed lawsuits against about 35,000 people on behalf of its recording company members.

By abusing some amendments to US federal copyright law intended to punish mass-scale copyright infringement - which had been drafted for it by the (legally) bribed US Congress - the RIAA sued people for sharing relatively few music files over the Internet.

At least some, and perhaps many, of the individuals accused by Mediasentry and the RIAA were and are innocent of illegal file-sharing, however.

Furthermore, Mediasentry operated as an unlicenced private investigative agency, which is patently illegal in many if not all states. Mediasentry and its officers and employees may therefore be exposed to civil liability if not potential criminal sanctions.

Mediasentry's activities have been criticised as invasive and ineffective. Ray Beckerman, the New York lawyer who runs the Recording Industry vs The People consumer rights blog, claims Mediasentry agents "have been invading the privacy of people. They've been doing very sloppy work."

According to Beckerman and court records, Mediasentry would scan the music files in a person's file-sharing directories and download them as evidence of copyright violations.

But using that method, Mediasentry couldn't prove that the person shared those files with anyone besides Mediasentry. And of course Mediasentry had the permission of the RIAA and its member companies to access those music files, so sharing those files with it wasn't unlawful distribution amounting to copyright infringement.

The RIAA had argued that merely 'making available' the music files constituted copyright infringement. Yet, last April, a court struck down the RIAA's argument, ruling that the US Copyright Act requires that the RIAA has to prove actual unlawful distribution in order to establish copyright infringement.

The RIAA's victory in its only copyright infringement case ever to go to trial was thrown out for that reason, and a new trial in that case is pending... a trial that it is now almost certain to lose, again for that reason.

However, intimidated by the potentially ruinous expenses of defending themselves against such litigation, many of the Music MAFIAA's victims paid - even if innocent - what in effect amounted to extortionate 'settlements'.

In some cases, young people lost their college savings, and no doubt other individuals and families were forced to pay amounts that created financial hardships for them. Such cases are continuing, because the RIAA hasn't said it will drop any lawsuits it has already filed.

Last month the RIAA announced that it would cease filing new lawsuits against people it suspects of copyright infringement. Instead, the RIAA said it will pressure ISPs to enforce its recorded music oligopoly. That's not likely to work out well for it either, one suspects.

And the RIAA has said it's going to replace Mediasentry with the Danish company Dtecnet.

So the RIAA hasn't actually 'seen the light' in any sense. Rather, it's simply been forced to fall back. More legal work is still needed to defeat the MAFIAA, but at least it is losing. µ



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