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Interview Lawyers Who Defend Against RIAA Suits 289

Attorneys Ty Rogers and Ray Beckerman maintain a blog called Recording Industry vs The People, subtitled, "A blog devoted to the RIAA's lawsuits of intimidation brought against ordinary working people," which was most recently linked from Slashdot on Sept. 10. They've agreed to answer your questions about RIAA suits -- and they obviously will not preface their answers with "IANAL," although we must note that they cannot give specific legal advice about specific cases. For that you need to engage an attorney yourself. (Luckily, their site contains a directory of lawyers willing to defend against RIAA suits.) In any case, these guys obviously know more than the average bear (or lawyer) about how the RIAA goes about suing music fans, how to keep from getting sued by the RIAA, and how to fight back if you do get sued, so we're glad they're willing to help us learn more about this apparently endless legal mess. Usual Slashdot interview rules apply.
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Interview Lawyers Who Defend Against RIAA Suits

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  • Guilty? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PrinceAshitaka ( 562972 ) * on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:33PM (#16082976) Homepage
    If you are completely guilty and are sued, but do not have the money to pay, what are your options?
  • Biggest Mistake? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:33PM (#16082985) Journal
    What's the biggest mistake you've seen people make historically in cases where they're charged by the RIAA?
  • Cost (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:34PM (#16082987)
    Out of curiosity, if I was sued by the RIAA (falsely or not), how much would it end up costing me to defend myself?
  • Good vs Bad? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PrinceAshitaka ( 562972 ) * on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:35PM (#16082999) Homepage
    Do you have a high percentage of your clients that are guilty or do you specialize in the exceptions, the clients that have good legal ground to defend themselves?
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:35PM (#16083010) Journal
    A lot of people settle out of court [com.com] when they are sued and it turns out to be between $12,000 & $17,000. Now, this looks like chump change compared to the $150,000 per violation and 1,000 songs shared means $150,000,000 lawsuit. Is this smart or stupid? I mean, don't you, the lawyers that these people consult, tell them to fold and pay the little amount of money?

    Follow up to that, do you believe the RIAA would actually win a $150,000,000 lawsuit if the out of court routes weren't taken? They seem to imply they wouldn't win if they offer these tiny settlements en masse.
  • by Software ( 179033 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:37PM (#16083025) Homepage Journal
    What should we do to prevent needing your services? Another way of putting this is, how do we avoid getting sued by the RIAA?
  • The Counter Suit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:42PM (#16083057) Journal
    Is there anyway to ask a judge to throw out cases when the RIAA's lawsuits become [theregister.co.uk] unbelievably [foxnews.com] ridiculous [arstechnica.com]?

    I mean, who is going to chase after these lawsuits and counter sue? What repurcussions can a counter suit have on the RIAA? And, if they do successfully counter sue, how much does that slow down the RIAA?

    When will this end? Could there be an epic counter suit that would make the RIAA stop with law suits?
  • Systemic Problem? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ZachPruckowski ( 918562 ) <zachary.pruckowski@gmail.com> on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:42PM (#16083060)
    Do you see the current situation as a systemic problem in the current torts system? Specifically, do you think we need legislative intervention to correct the "money bias" in our legal system?

    I mean, there doesn't seem to be much of a way to fight an RIAA lawsuit money-wise. It always seems to end quickly: Either the defendant ist so obviously innocent they drop the case or he/she settles for "pennies on the dollar". When do you think we'll see a few definite trials to answer the hanging legal questions about investigative tactics and what an IP proves?
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:44PM (#16083076) Journal
    You provide a great list of lawyers willing to defend us ... But would you happen to be able to post the names, phone numbers and home mailing addresses of your colleagues that work for the RIAA?

    Don't be shy about telling us which one has won the most cases against low income citizens.
  • by Bertie ( 87778 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:50PM (#16083130)
    There's a certain peer-to-peer music filesharing client which, erm, a friend of mine uses frequently and loves dearly. They claim on their website to be all about sharing music between independent artists who've agreed to release it royalty-free, but in practice the content's all copyrighted. It's just like what Napster was in the good old days, only better. It's an absolute Aladdin's cave. What's more, if you want to jump people's download queues and get the music you're after without waiting your turn, you can pay the organisation behind the network for privileged status and ransack people's record collections left, right and centre.

    I'm sure you know the network I'm talking about. My question is, given that they came down on Napster like a ton of bricks, and chase people like Kazaa and the torrent sites relentlessly, how the hell does this lot get away with it?

    Not that, erm, my friend's complaining, you understand...
  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:56PM (#16083187) Homepage
    Everyone is asking about how to defend against the suits. I want to know the other side of things:

    What do you think that the RIAA should do to prevent piracy? Do you agree or disagree with the lawsuits as they are doing them now? Do you suggest a better way? How about your opinion on the current state of copyright law?
  • Wireless (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Space ( 13455 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:56PM (#16083191) Homepage
    I have an open wireless network. If the RIAA tracks music sharing to my IP address am I liable for traffic which is possibly produced by my neighbors?
  • allofmp3 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by giafly ( 926567 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:57PM (#16083197)
    What's the position of Americans who buy from legal offshore music sites, such as allofmp3 [allofmp3.com]?. Is this safer than downloading "free"?
  • When is it illegal? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2006 @02:58PM (#16083204)
    At what point does it become illegal?
    - Simply having the music on your computer?
    - Downloading more music?
    - Actually uploading and sharing the music?

    I understand how uploading songs could be construed as a violation of copyright laws, but I fail to understand how downloading them for personal use puts the downloader in violation of those laws.
  • Historic precedent? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:02PM (#16083241)

    Are there any precedents in history of any industry doing anything like this before? I know there have been examples of cartels forming and the cartel using their combined power against other businesses, but is there anything in history like a cartel using its massive legal leverage against their own customer base?

  • Theft (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trewornan ( 608722 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:10PM (#16083300)
    Could you finally settle that age old Slashdot bone of contention:

    Is copyright infringement, theft (or not).
  • Where is the line? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by paulevans ( 791844 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:12PM (#16083317) Homepage
    It seems to me that what the RIAA is doing is pure extortion using the courts. What line hasn't been crossed that has kept what they are doing legal?
  • by techmuse ( 160085 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:12PM (#16083326)
    RIAA presumably has a right to defend its copyrights in court, but its tactics seem to be designed to force people to avoid a fight that, while they might win, might also drain them financially. Does this count as racketeering? If so, could RIAA be subject to a class action suit under the RICO laws? If not, how can ordinary citizens who may have done nothing wrong defend themselves without burning through all of their cash in the process?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:13PM (#16083334)
    We have lots of kids/young adults visit our home, and often they borrow the computer. There's always adult supervision, but not necessarily internet-savvy supervision. If visitors were to download music illegally, am I in trouble?
  • What about (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chefjoeardee ( 1001809 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:16PM (#16083356)
    I've always wondered this and I'm not sure entirely how it would work but if a household has a wireless connection setup and they maintain standard security (WEP, MAC filtering) and the such, which clearly shown to be vulnerable to attacks/intrusion, how can a court prove without doubt that it was in fact that person who was involved in piracy? Furthermore, would it be their fault? They implemented the security they could yet there are still ways around it. If it still holds up for the RIAA side, couldn't they just blindly point fingers at people (not that they already don't) and win?
  • by Travoltus ( 110240 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:17PM (#16083367) Journal
    which come from Japan.

    I just want to clarify.. the RIAA can't sue me for that, can they?
  • Re:Biggest Mistake? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tietokone-olmi ( 26595 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:27PM (#16083465)
    No, no, no. Think bigger. Three biggest mistakes. Or five. Or ten! It's the US for crying out loud, there's got to be a total assload of mistakes you can make besides the #1 largest!

    And they shouldn't be general lawsuit mistakes either, like playing by the other side's rules or terminology.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:27PM (#16083466)
    Which of the following are illegal and why? Which of the following are in a legal grey area?

    1) Trading CDs via US Mail
    2) Ripping CDs that I own to mp3, and playing them on my computer.
            2a) Backing up CDs to mp3 on my computer
    3) Ripping CDs that I own to mp3, and then putting them on my mp3 player for my own personal use.
            3a)Loaning the mp3 player to my friend with the ripped music from question 3
    4) Borrowing a CD from the library, ripping the CD to my computer and listening to the music on my mp3 player, and deleting the music when I return the CD to the library.
            4a) Never deleting the music from the computer/mp3 player
    5) Emailing an mp3 from question 2 to one friend to listen to, and requesting that he delete it once he is finished.
            5a) emailing an mp3 to 10 friends and asking them to delete it once its been listened to?
            5b) ...not asking them to delete it.
    6) Using a p2p service to trade mp3s from CDs they own with mp3s from CDs you own
    7) Using allofmp3 to download music
    8) Stripping copy protection from iTunes or PlaysForSure music files, to play them on your mp3 player.
    9) How does the RIAA show that the music you have on your computer are not backup mp3 files from CDs that were destroyed or lost by you?
          9a) Can I use a p2p service to acquire a song I legally owned from a CD I owned, but was destroyed or lost?
  • Re:Evidence? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by halcyon1234 ( 834388 ) <halcyon1234@hotmail.com> on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:33PM (#16083535) Journal
    The RIAA seems to be able to ask for some pretty outrageous things in their discovery requests, including seizing equipment, hard drives, etc. Can I do the same to them? Can I request the discovery of all evidence they will use in the case, including the seizing of all computers and servers used in their investigation, so I can have them expertly examined and prevent tampering?
  • by crovira ( 10242 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:35PM (#16083560) Homepage
    I am a podcaster ( MSBPodcast.com ) and one of my big concerns is that the RIAA will make all my music disappear or tie me up in legalities.

    Could ASCAP/BMI (and other worse regimes, like the European models,) force me to pay a licence fee for my very small audience (only 0.0833% of the population has MS.)
  • by greyfeld ( 521548 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:40PM (#16083613) Journal
    While I belive that downloading songs via P2P networks and burning copies of CD recordings with a computer CD-ROM drive is illegal under current law, I was wondering under what circumstances, if any, copying of recorded music on CDs is allowed for personal use. I have been under the impression for some time that the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 allows me to make all of the private use digital copies I would like provided I am using something like a set-top CD Recorder and the taxed blank CD's produced for music copying. How does borrowing a CD from the public library and making a copy using one of these types of devices fall under the long arm of the RIAA and existing law? Thanks for taking the time to address this.

    Here are what I believe to be the relevent sections from the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992:

    Section 1001 defines a "digital audio recording device" as: "Any machine or device of a type commonly distributed to individuals for use by individuals, whether or not included with or as part of some other machine or device, the digital recording function of which is designed or marketed for the primary purpose of, and that is capable of, making a digital audio copied recording for private use ...".

    Section 1001 defines a "digital audio recording medium" as "any material object in a form commonly distributed for use by individuals, that is primarily marketed or most commonly used by consumers for the purpose of making digital audio copied recordings by use of a digital audio recording device.

    Such term (digital audio recording medium - my addition) does not include any material object--

    (i) that embodies a sound recording at the time it is first distributed by the importer or manufacturer; or

    (ii) that is primarily marketed and most commonly used by consumers either for the purpose of making copies of motion pictures or other audiovisual works or for the purpose of making copies of nonmusical literary works, including computer programs or data bases."

    Section 1008 says "No action may be brought under this title alleging infringement of copyright based on the manufacture, importation, or distribution of a digital audio recording device, a digital audio recording medium, an analog recording device, or an analog recording medium, or based on the non-commercial use by a consumer of such a device or medium for making digital musical recordings or analog music recordings."

    Based on my reading of this act, I cannot be sued or arrested under a certain set of circumstances. I.e., using a set-top CD recorder and taxed Music CD blanks. Are there other laws that circumvent this and make it illegal?

  • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:43PM (#16083633)
    (2) In a case where the copyright owner sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that infringement was committed willfully, the court in its discretion may increase the award of statutory damages to a sum of not more than $150,000.

    So basically the RIAA is *asking* the court for 150k to make the numbers look ridiculously high in order to get people to fold. Or in other words they are pointing the barrel of a tank cannon at you and hoping you will pee in your pants.

  • Gray Area Questions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Four_One_Nine ( 997288 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @03:56PM (#16083772) Journal
    Over the years I have attempted to educate some of the 'younger' generation about the do-s and don't-s of music copying and sharing. The following questions have come up out of real experiences and I have never had anyone provide a reasonable (justifiable) answer.

    1. If I purchase a CD and it is subsequently stolen (along with my 5 disc changer *@$#!!) do I retain any rights to listen to that music?

    . a. Are the .mp3 files of that CD on my computer legal or do they now belong to the thief too?

    . b. Can I re-burn a CD from the .mp3s and is that legal?

    . c. Does me having a backup copy of the files on my computer mean I can't make an insurance claim?

    . d. What if it is destroyed (for example by a fire) rather than stolen?

    2. If I purchase a CD and it is subsequently scratched or broken to the point where it is not playable, can I legally download the songs from that CD from a file-sharing network?

    3. If I purchase the DVD for a movie, could I legally download songs from the soundtrack for that movie from a file-sharing network?

    4. If I purchase a CD that our entire family listens to, and then my daughter leaves for College, can she legally take a copy of an .mp3 ripped from that CD with her on her computer? or - similarly - could she take the disc and could I keep the .mp3 on my computer?

  • by brainee28 ( 772585 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @04:00PM (#16083819)
    I'm a bit confused as to the RIAA's standing within the court.

    If copyright infringement is the basis for the suit, then would not the copyright holder have to bring on the action against the suspected infringing party? The RIAA does not represent all studios and artists, yet they are bringing actions against an individual without their group directly being infringed upon. I understand that they are representing the interests of the studios and or copyright holders, but doesn't the actual copyright holder have to bring their case forth?

    From what I've read of the RIAA, they seem to be instigating actions against individuals, but there's not been mentioned any direct copyright holders bringing actions against individuals. Could you clarify this please?

  • Re:Evidence? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slackmaster2000 ( 820067 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @04:01PM (#16083822)
    This would interest me as well. I had to take part in a legal action against an (ex)employee once in which I had to produce all sorts of logs as evidence. I work for a regulated company and am thus all too familiar with validation concepts relating to the control of electronic records. Since the logs I produced were just text with a virtually non-existant degree of authenticity, I figured that they would be considered weak evidence and that I would at the least have a lot of explaining to do in terms who has access to them, etc. But nope, the lawyers and the system were perfectly happy with these files that I could have completely falsified.

    Perhaps that's the difference between a case involving a high priced defense attorney, and the average case with average defense.
  • by kthejoker ( 931838 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @04:06PM (#16083890)
    What are the exact legal laws for ownership of a particular piece of content, such as a book, CD, or DVD?

    If I buy a CD, can my wife make a copy? If my son-in-law buys a CD, can I make a copy?
    If two people each contribute $5 to buy a $10 DVD, can they make a copy?
    If 100 people each contribue a dime to buy a $10 DVD, can they all gather together and watch it?
    Can a corporation own a DVD? Can they make the DVD or DVD content viewable on a secure intranet for all employees of the corporation? Can they make it downloadable?

    Are there any specific cases or laws relating to this? How many people can own a CD? Is it limited to one person? One household? Also if you could address any possible permutations or exceptions I may have missed, that would be great.
  • Countersuits (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zentinal ( 602572 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @04:07PM (#16083894) Homepage

    In your opinion is there a percentage of countersuits (compared to the number of suits filed by the RIAA), particularly percentage of countersuits won, that would dissuade the RIAA from filing suits of this kind?

    On a related note, is there such a thing as a class action countersuit? Can those sued by the RIAA gather together and countersue the RIAA?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2006 @04:19PM (#16084034)
    I like all of parent's questions. I hope I don't sound too naive for you to take seriously:

    What would happen (financially, in the corporate world, in the legal world) if the RIAA simply folded up shop and stopped bringing these lawsuits?
  • Safeguards? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @04:27PM (#16084129) Journal
    Realistically, what safeguards are there against someone simply suing you, on any grounds or no grounds at all, and offering a settlement which is slightly below the minimum it would cost to defend oneself? This isn't just the RIAA; DirecTV did the same thing against people who bought perfectly legal "unloopers", and when they countersued, the judge slapped them with DirecTVs legal costs.
  • Fair use? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @04:50PM (#16084320)
    It would be good to get a real lawyer's opinion on just what we are permitted to do with our music under "fair use"...

    - Can we share with a family member, friend, non-friend, anyone, everyone?

    - Can we make copies, backups, archives, etc.?

    - When and where can we listen to our music... copy in the car, boat, iPod, etc.?

    AFAIK, "fair use" has not been defined for electronic copies of music since the RIAA "settles" all cases.

  • by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @05:02PM (#16084450) Homepage
    Statutory damages are calculated on a per-work basis.

    So if you make one million copies of a single book, then it only counts once for the purpose of calculating statutory damages. But if you make one copy each of two different books, then that counts twice.
  • Re:Evidence? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @05:20PM (#16084572) Homepage
    No. It's perfectly good evidence.

    If it's easy to fake, then you should present that fact. Then the jury decides whether they believe it or whether they think it's fake, and based upon that, whether they think you did what you're accused of. That's their job. They could go either way.

    If you want to exclude evidence, you need a different, better, reason than that it might not be true. Courts determine truth based on evidence.

    You can read the Federal Rules of Evidence here [cornell.edu]. You'd probably want to start with R. 401. The hearsay rules starting at R. 801 would also be relevant.
  • RICO (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:18PM (#16085018)
    Has anyone tried to create a RICO case against the RIAA for extorsion? It is my understanding that they are violating several state and federal computer intrusion laws while trying to protect their constituent's IP. Just because they are doing these acts to protect their constituent's property does not make them immune to laws of our land.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:29PM (#16085108)
    Recently I was speaking with a friend and she told me that she was being sued by the RIAA. She then mentioned that it was a different group of companies than last year. I was curious by this and asked a few more questions. It ends up she was sued last year by three of the RIAA member companies, and this year she is being sued by two of the others.

    Last year she settled as they told her they had a list of her shared folder. I found out she was using Kazaa. She also stated they listed many songs that she never downloaded and some songs she had never heard of (songs not anywhere related to her listening habits). At her lawyers suggestion she settled out of court and had to declare bankruptcy. Now she is being sued by the other companies with the same information as last year.

    Does she have any course of action in this besides settling again? I told her she needed a new lawyer and to do some research online at Groklaw and at the EFF and to see what her options are and to make sure her new lawyer knows more about what is going on.

    I guess the primary question is this:
    If someone is sued once and settled, what are their options if sued a second time by different companies using the same evidence as the first suit?
  • Trend Forecasting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dark Coder ( 66759 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @09:29PM (#16086002)
    What current U.S. code, state or local laws are most alarmist or obfuscated with regards to the rights of the end-user using these RIAA-sanctioned distributed online music/medias?

    What area should our local congressperson focus on the most to clarifying the laws regarding distributed online medias?
  • How... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Digital Vomit ( 891734 ) on Tuesday September 12, 2006 @02:01AM (#16086863) Homepage Journal
    How do we go about changing copyright laws to prevent this kind of nonsense from continuing?
  • Torrents? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cerebud ( 868302 ) on Tuesday September 12, 2006 @09:40AM (#16088086)
    Torrents seem harder to track than regular old P2P. Is there a record of people using bittorrents being sued by the RIAA? Or are they just going after sites like Kazaa? Also, if I use my wireless router and other people (strangers) are able to share my bandwith (Wi-Fi), am I liable for them using P2P software? I'm assuming that I am liable, but for a while, I didn't know that my router was broadcasting an un-secure internet signal.
  • by scruffy ( 29773 ) on Tuesday September 12, 2006 @10:33AM (#16088343)
    Given your experience defending folks on copyright violations, what do you think the law should be?

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson