RIAA sued under racketeering laws

Online chat rooms and bulletin boards populated by file-swapping fans are filled with postings comparing the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to a Mafia-like syndicate. Now, one target of the group's lawsuits against alleged music pirates is asking the judicial system to back that assessment.

A New Jersey woman has filed a lawsuit against the RIAA under anti-racketeering statutes, charging the group with using scare tactics to extort money from the individuals it sues.

Michele Scimeca is one of more than 1,000 alleged online file-swappers sued by the RIAA since the middle of last year. The group filed another batch of 531 lawsuits on Wednesday. The RIAA has settled a number of those lawsuits -- and therein lies the problem, according to the complaint Scimeca filed in the U.S. District Court for New Jersey.

"Instead of merely providing service of the complaint upon the various defendants, including Ms. Scimeca, the Plaintiffs have opted to include a letter discussing and prompting settlement of the copyright infringement action," the complaint states. "This scare tactic has caused a vast amount of settlements from individuals who feared fighting such a large institution and feel victim to these actions and felt forced to provide funds to settle these actions instead of fighting the institution."

The complaint argues that the main intent of the RIAA's lawsuit campaign is to extract financial settlements from those sued, and charges the group with violating Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws.

Scimeca's lawyer, Bart Lombardo, said his client will also be challenging the legality of suing individuals for online file sharing through peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa.

"This counterclaim that we're filing is about the tactics used to enforce," he said. "Of course, we'll also be arguing the legality of the downloading, but that's a separate matter."

An RIAA representative did not return a call seeking comment. At an unrelated press conference Thursday, RIAA Director of Anti-Piracy Brad Buckles said he had not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit and declined comment. He defended the organization's campaign of lawsuits against individual file-swappers.

"We think the lawsuits are being very successful," he said. "I think we've seen some great strides out of that. People are beginning to realize that what at first blush might seem like innocent activity, moving files around on the Internet, is in fact theft of property from artists and companies."

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