RIAA Ups & Downs

As 2004 wound down, the Los Angeles sheriff's department successfully conducted five simultaneous raids on illegal CD replication plants in southern California on December 15. Dubbed "Operation Final Release," the joint operation between the Southern California High Tech Task Force and the LA sheriff's department put 65 officers into action, closing down five optical disc replication facilities in LA and Orange counties suspected of churning out millions of pirated CDs, which were sold throughout the United States.

"Virtually unprecedented in size and scope, today's anti-piracy operation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff and others delivered a significant blow to piracy during a critical sales period for the recording industry," said Brad Buckles, the RIAA's executive vice president for anti-piracy.

Buckles added, "CD plant piracy is particularly damaging because the counterfeit goods produced tend to appear more authentic and often end up in legitimate music distribution chains. Music fans who purchase seemingly genuine product lose out, as do musicians, songwriters, and record labels who are deprived of a return on their work."

Given its success when confronting real criminals, it is surprising that the RIAA managed to find time in late January to deliver another 717 "John Doe" suits against individuals and computer networks suspected of participating in peer-to-peer file sharing through services such as KaZaa, eDonkey, and Limewire. Among the indicted were 68 computer network users at 23 universities and colleges including University of Massachusetts (Lowell), Georgetown University, Harvard University Medical School, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Illinois State University, SUNY at Morrisville, Texas A&M University, University of South Florida, Indiana University, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, and others.

Steven Marks, the RIAA's general counsel, pointed out that there are now legal alternatives to illegal file sharing and explained the RIAA's action, "Today's university and college students are tomorrow's leaders. ... Students need to understand that just because someone else's property or creations can be obtained easily and freely without anyone seemingly knowing, there are consequences, because it is stealing."

Gertrude Walton certainly doesn't understand the consequences of her actions, but that's primarily because the 83-year-old woman had been dead for nearly a month when the RIAA sued her for downloading over 700 songs under the nom de web of "smittenedkitten."

Robin Chianumba, Walton's daughter, said, "My mother wouldn't know how to turn on a computer." She added, "I am pretty sure she is not going to leave [her burial site at] Greenwood Memorial Park to attend the hearing."

Ms. Chianumba faxed record company officials a copy of her mother's death certificate before the lawsuit was filed, responding to a letter warning of impending legal action. Jonathan Lamy, an RIAA spokesman allowed that Walton was probably not the smittenedkitten it was seeking. "Our evidence gathering and our subsequent legal actions all were initiated weeks and even months ago. We will now, of course, obviously dismiss this case."