RIAA Follies

Mom fights back: As we've previously reported, the recording industry hasn't shied away from pursuing individuals it suspects of illegal downloading from peer-to-peer networks through the RIAA's "John Doe" lawsuits, most of which have intimidated the recipients into making out-of-court settlements. This strategy has, on several occasions, made the organization look foolish—as it assuredly did when it served a deceased 83-year-old.

Now, according to the New York Journal News, several record companies are bringing suit against Patricia Santangelo in US District Court in White Plains, alleging that the mother of five illegally downloaded and traded copyrighted material. Ms. Santangelo disputes that claim, saying she didn't even realize that her computer contained KaZaa software and that she never downloaded anything. The KaZaa account name listed in the suit is said to belong to a friend of one of her children.

The RIAA's settlement center contacted Ms. Santangelo, according to the Journal News, offering to broker a compromise to the $7500 in penalties sought by the suit. The soccer mom declined. "I didn't do anything wrong. Why should I pay them?" So she's doing something no one else has done to date: She's hiring a lawyer and preparing to fight it out in court.

"I am still nervous about the whole thing," she told reporter Timothy O'Connor, but "I just got so aggravated about how threatening they were."

Santangelo's lawyer, Morlan Ty Rogers, challenges the "boilerplate" language used in the lawsuits, claiming that the record companies lack the concrete evidence needed to press their case in court. He observes that the record labels sue the person whose name is on an Internet account, whether or not there is proof that that person committed any crime. In fact, Rogers has filed a motion to dismiss the suit, claiming it does not properly state a claim—a charge the record companies dispute.

Organized crime? In the war against copyright infringement, organizations like the RIAA and MPAA have taken to characterizing the major culprit as organized crime, pointing to parallels with the traffic in illegal narcotics. "The markup for a kilo of heroin is 200%," claimed Warner Music spokesman Craig Hoffman. "The markup for pirated CDs and DVDs is 800%."

Really? Wired's Abby Christopher is unconvinced. Christopher points out that, while the links between gangs and counterfeit CDs and DVDs are undeniable in many developing countries, not to mention Russia and China, there doesn't seem to be much evidence of it in the US. Most of the cases that have resulted in convictions so far involve flea markets and street vendors—small-scale operations notable for their lack of sophistication.

"It's not organized crime families, as in 'the Mob,'" Christopher gets Bradley Buckles, head of the RIAA's anti-piracy unit to concede. "But large groups engaged in organized criminal activity are involved."

Christopher did not turn up compelling evidence to link largescale counterfeiting operations to domestic gang activity, nor to support the extreme profit margins Hoffman claimed, but she did quote Jeff McGrath, a district attorney in LA's high-tech crimes unit, who said that several cases that would prove the connection are pending.