Pursuing pirates, no matter the cost

In case you missed it amid the iPhone hoopla, a single mother from Oregon won a victory against the recording industry in June. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) finally dropped its 2005 case, Atlantic v. Andersen, against Tanya Andersen.

The RIAA had accused her of using the peer-to-peer file-sharing program, Kazaa, to illegally download gangster rap songs. (Some blog posts give specific song titles, including Ludacris’ “Hoes in My Room.”) Andersen filed a countersuit later that year, accusing the RIAA of racketeering, invasion of privacy, and malicious abuse of the legal process. According to the text of her countersuit, an employee at the office trying to collect a fine from her told her that although he believed she was innocent, the RIAA would not “quit their attempts to force payment from her because to do so would encourage other people to defend themselves.” And unless she immediately paid them the sum of roughly $4,000 the RIAA allegedly would “ruin her financially.”

Andersen provided the RIAA with a Myspace page (entitled “Chad’s Wacky Life Stories”) linked to the user name the group said she used, as well as the author’s name and location. But the RIAA continued to pursue her. It threatened to force a deposition of her 10-year-old daughter—even going to the lengths of masquerading as the girl’s grandmother in a call to her elementary school.

And so the whole sad affair continued until earlier this year, when the recording industry agreed to drop their case… if Andersen dropped hers. She refused and filed a motion demanding that the RIAA provide proof she had illegally downloaded music. Right before the June deadline, the RIAA relented. The case was dismissed, significantly, “with prejudice.” In legal speak, the court said Andersen is innocent and can try to recover her attorney fees. Andersen filed a new suit in Oregon to seek additional damages from the RIAA, the company that collected fines for them, as well as the private investigation company that helps them in their pursuit of pirates.

That the RIAA thinks it necessary to stoop to such ham-handed tactics—pursuing the innocent when there are plenty of real pirates out there—is truly frightening. (And, of course, frightened is exactly what they want us to be.) But it also goes to show how impotent the recording industry must feel as electronic music completely reorganizes its world. Let’s hope Tanya Andersen’s victory gives them pause before they do anything like that again.

Subscribe to the MacWeek Newsletter

Comments