RIAA Tactics in Question After Dismissal of Suit

One of the Recording Industry Association of America lawsuits, launched this month against 261 accused illegal file traders, has been dismissed by the industry group, calling its technical tracking of alleged song swappers into question.

The RIAA said it has dismissed a suit against 66-year-old Sarah Ward of Boston after the retired teacher denied ever using a peer-to-peer (P2P) application or even having a computer capable of doing what the RIAA alleged.

The recording industry group, on a campaign against the trading of copyrighted music on the Internet, has used more than 1,100 subpoenas and 261 copyright-infringement lawsuits to send a message to regular consumers who participate in illegal file trading.

The RIAA accused Ward, a Mac owner, of using the Kazaa P2P application to download hits by the likes of Snoop Dogg, but the senior citizen denied the existence of the software on her computer, which is not technically capable of running the Windows-only Kazaa application without using a Windows emulator.

“It was a case of mistaken identity,” Electronic Frontier Foundation legal director Cindy Cohn told TechNewsWorld. “It was terrifying for her. She lost sleep, and she was confused because she’s not a computer user.”

Dismissal and Denial

The RIAA dismissed the lawsuit against Ward, who contacted the EFF for legal advice, but denied it had made a mistake in accusing her of using Kazaa to download rap music.

Claiming it was giving Ward the benefit of the doubt, the RIAA said the case is ongoing and that it is reserving the option to refile the suit “if and when circumstances warrant,” according to a letter from an RIAA attorney.

The industry group also called the Ward case the only lawsuit of its kind out of the 261 filed against a wide range of consumers earlier this month and denied that its findings are flawed.

Tricky Tracking

The RIAA has said it uses software that searches P2P public directories for copyrighted recordings and then downloads a sample of the infringing files with date and time of access and stores the user’s Internet Protocol (IP) address. The RIAA then identifies the infringer’s Internet service provider.

Cohn, who said the EFF is looking into similar cases that are more complicated, pointed out the difficulty of accurately identifying P2P users via the RIAA’s method.

“If you are one number off, or the time is off, you’re going to get the wrong person,” she said. “How many numbers have to be exactly correct for them to get the right person?”

More To Come

The RIAA has indicated plans to file more lawsuits, and its strategy of serving subpoenas also is continuing, with more than 100 additional subpoenas issued recently in the Midwest, according to Cohn.

Critical of the RIAA for not contacting consumers before proceeding with lawsuits against them, Cohn said the Ward case probably will be repeated as the industry group proceeds.

“I’m quite confident, especially if they’re launching a couple hundred more, they’re going to continue to make mistakes,” she said.

Turning Tables

Despite public outcry over its strategy, the RIAA has indicated its intention to continue pursuing individual computer users whom it believes have traded copyrighted music online in an effort to send a message regarding music piracy.

However, Cohn said the recording industry itself could be the target of legal action based on federal requirements for due diligence. Cohn said Ward’s attorney is considering such action, but it likely would take more similar cases to pursue the RIAA successfully.

“You have to have a basic due diligence investigation before you just sue people,” Cohn said. “Certainly, if there were a few more [similar cases], we would see that raised. I don’t know if it would work with just one case, but I can tell you for sure it would work if there were 20.”

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