Stepping up the effort to root out the sale of pirated CDs at otherwise legitimate retail outlets, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), on behalf of the major record companies, sued five New York City retailers for flagrant violations of copyright law.
The latest legal action is part of a program designed to deter a continuing piracy trend: the sale of illegal music at small, established businesses. Pirated CDs can increasingly be manufactured and sold with only a minimal investment of space and capital. As a result, some retailers — such as the owners of convenience stores, small music stores, or corner markets — are attempting to make a quick buck by selling illegal CDs, or even manufacturing counterfeit CDs themselves. In response, the RIAA has adopted an aggressive "zero tolerance" approach to retailers engaged in this activity.
The music industry anti-piracy efforts are also part of larger initiative recently launched by the RIAA and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) aimed at protecting holiday shoppers from purchasing illegal copies of CDs and DVDs and reducing the amount of illegal product readily available to the public. The establishments sued previously received demand letters from RIAA lawyers but refused or ignored overtures for a settlement.
"We routinely work with and educate retail establishment owners on good business practices for the sale of music," said Brad Buckles, executive vice president, Anti-Piracy, RIAA. "When individuals ignore the law and attempt to make a quick buck by selling pirated CDs, we will enforce our rights. Engaging in this behavior is akin to dealing in stolen property. It undermines the business of legitimate record stores that sell music to fans the right way."
In addition to the five lawsuits, the RIAA has sent a new round of demand letters to the owners of 20 retail establishments in New York City and parts of California. Since this program was first launched in 2002, some 50 retail establishments have either settled out of court or had sizable penalties rendered against them. "RIAA's efforts to stop illegal sales at retail outlets is important to all of the music retailers who operate legally, and who shouldn't have to compete with retailers who operate illegally," said Jim Donio, president of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers. "NARM does not tolerate piracy because of the harm it does to our members and the industry as a whole, and retailers who engage in these practices risk losing their membership in the Association."
Some of the illegal product identified at these establishments included CDs branded with fake labels as well as product featuring counterfeit logos of popular radio stations The lawsuits, which were filed in federal court, specifically ask for an injunction and legal damages, based on the amount of pirated product being offered.
Conservatively, the RIAA estimates that the U.S. recording industry loses more than $300 million dollars annually to physical goods piracy. –Jane Cohen and Bob Grosssweiner
Mom Fights Downloading Suit On Her Own
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, about 80 miles north of New York City, 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 email." Kazaa is the peer-to-peer software program used to share files.
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 was all alone at the defense table before federal 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 exchange of evidence.
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.
Her former lawyer, Ray Beckerman, says Santangelo doesn't really need him.
"I'm sure she's going to win," he said. "I don't see how they could win. They have no case. They have no evidence she ever did anything. They don't know how the files appeared on her computer or who put them there."
Jenni Engebretsen, 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."
The David-and-Goliath nature of the case has attracted considerable attention in the Internet community. To those who defend the right to such "peer-to-peer" networks and criticize the RIAA's tactics, Santangelo is a hero.
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.
Because some cases are settled just before a trial and because it would be months before Santangelo's got that far, it's impossible to predict whether she might be the first to go to trial over music downloading.
But she vows that she's in the fight to stay.
"People say to me, `You're crazy. Why don't you just settle?' I could probably get out of the whole thing if I paid maybe $3,500 and signed their little document. But I won't do that."
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.
Santangelo and Beckerman were confident they would win a motion to dismiss the case, but 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.
Santangelo says she's learned a lot about computers in the past year.
"I read some of these blogs and they say, `Why didn't this woman have a firewall?' she said. "Well, I have a firewall now. I have a ton of security now."