Not at all surprising. In fact, it could even be amusing, since in this case no one but the RIAA has to pay for its mistake:
Lawyers representing several record companies have filed suit against an 83 year-old woman who died in December, claiming that she made more than 700 songs available on the internet.
"I believe that if music companies are going to set examples they need to do it to appropriate people and not dead people," Robin Chianumba told AP. "I am pretty sure she is not going to leave Greenwood Memorial Park to attend the hearing."
Needless to say, this is not the way it usually goes. Most RIAA targets are alive and well, and must deal with the consequences
of being sued by a group that has fought in court to make the process quick and painless -- for the RIAA.
Due process is, after all, sort of inconvenient. Why not round up all of the people you want to sue in one big, easy-to-bulldoze group? So what if their cases have nothing to do with one another, or the ISP you want information from is a couple states away from a target's jurisdiction? And what's all this nonsense with having to present a court with actual evidence of wrongdoing before you can strip an Internet user of her anonymity? Whatever happened to guilty until proven innocent?
In fact, the RIAA doesn't usually meet much resistance to its round-'em-up-and-shoot lawsuits. As this Daily Texan article reports, it can usually skip right to the good part: collecting the settlement fee:
It was an ingenious plan: Lawyers would pay around $200 in court fees to subpoena an ISP into revealing the owners of a list of IP addresses the RIAA had accumulated. Before November, the RIAA was able to gather around 50 identities per subpoena. Assuming each person received a letter with a phone number to a similar settlement center, and each person decided to pay a little now instead of a lot later by settling, and each person settled for the then-average $3,000, then for $200 the RIAA could make an easy $150,000.
I can count on at least a few Copyfight readers to respond with, "So what? Isn't copyright infringement illegal? Someone
has to pay for the damage infringement is doing to the record labels -- why not the people accused of the crime?"
Jim Griffin has been talking this over with the folks on the Pho list, and his response is both sensible and well-articulated:
We license all manner of uncontrolled use of music, but not this. ...Why not admit [it's] impractical and inefficient to control these songs one by one? Why not acknowledge the $20,000 iPod is not a business model?
Licensed or unlicensed is the question, and if not, why not?
Sound recording companies are paid nothing by radio broadcasters. They've built multi-billion-dollar businesses without paying those whose sound recordings they use. Are they they pursued by record companies? Of course not. Legal, no license necessary. Is anyone beating the hallways of Congress seeking to make them pay? Is anyone litigating this case through the courts? Of course not. Why pick on the powerful and wealthy?
There was a time the stink was about copying discs, but that was before Sony and Universal took Roxio ownership and leadership. After that, it was all about peered sharing, even though disc copying delivered the recipient of the process a perfect copy of that available for sale.
Better to chase teen-agers, better to sue old women, better to berate the individual user, all of whom are paying far more today for media through multiple flat-fee, all-you-can-eat buffets than they ever paid before.
Only the sound recording companies cling to their pursuit of this notion of control and calling those who do not comply thieves, and in doing so they leave billions on the table that should be divided fairly amongst creators and rights holders.
There's no question that P2P-enabled copyright infringement is a problem. But the lawsuits have not, and will not, solve it. It's time for a better way forward
[Note: this post was expanded from a shorter, now-deleted post published on Feb. 5th.]