PSA of the day

Today a colleague emailed a campus mailing list and let us know that with the increased activity of the RIAA targeted college students (NC State University is one of the top-ten targets) – they had received 37 “pay us or we’ll sue” letters. My colleague’s note was a good reminder that these things are pretty serious, and could have serious ramifications for the staff caught up in them and for the people they help with technology issues.

If they are illegally redistributing music, that’s one thing, but a lot of innocent people get tarred by the RIAA’s actions.

I wrote a followup to the list, letting folks know that the EFF guide about the P2P lawsuits is a good resources and saying:

I’d personally encourage each of you to find a way to express to your congressperson to support legislation that strengthens your fair-use rights (including Congressman Rick Boucher’s “Fair Use Act” – H.R. 1201) and to encourage your congressperson to investigate the activities of groups like the RIAA.

While it can be legitimately argued, and it has held up in court, that redistributing music and movies in violation of the default terms of use granted by copyright is illegal and is an activity that should not be condoned by either us individually, or the University, the organization bringing these lawsuits uses legal practices that are at best unethical, and have a strong appearance of corruption.

Remember that the RIAA has sued for file sharing:

  • A family that didn’t even own a computer
  • A 66 year old woman that owned a Macintosh for allegedly sharing “gangsta rap” using Kazaa (at the time Windows-only)
  • Dead people, more than once. At one time, sending a letter to the dead person’s family that they had a 60-day grieving period, before the RIAA would depose the children in the suit against the dead man’s estate.
  • In one case, they dropped a case against a mother that fought back, then sued the mother’s 20-year old daughter and got a summary judgement
  • In another case, they were unable to produce evidence in a lawsuit against a mother, then sued the 13 year old daughter, and demanded that the court order the family to get a Guardian Ad Litem (a legal guardian, paid for by the family). Guardian Ad Litems are typically used for divorce proceedings, child abuse cases, and other cases involving the child’s welfare to insure the best interests of the child
  • The CEO of the Warner Group announced last year that he was fairly certain that his kids downloaded music – but yet, the RIAA didn’t sue his child.

It’s not limited to file sharing, last year, the RIAA apparently starting sending DMCA takedowns to users that posted home videos of their kids dancing to music on You Tube (I don’t have a good secondary source for this).

There are, I’m sure, countless other stories. The RIAA files lawsuits in bulk, placing the burden of proof on the target of the lawsuit, often at tremendous financial burden. Last year, the MIT student newspaper reported an MIT student that was sued told the paper that she was encouraged to “drop out of college or go to community college in order to be able to afford settlements.”

While illegally redistributing copyright materials is not it, some kind of revolution is necessary. Somehow, someway, these kinds of business practices of the RIAA have to be stopped, and the only apparent place to do that is in Congress.

There you go, your PSA of the day.