RIAA Caught Between Rock and a Hard Place

    March 22, 2007

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been involved in a notorious legal dispute with Patti Santangelo for the past two years. In a decision handed down from the presiding judge in the case today, the RIAA was dealt a severe blow that could have far-reaching implications.

When the RIAA came knocking on Patti Santangelo’s door, she didn’t even have a clue what peer-to-peer file sharing was, much less how to set up a network for the sole purpose of propagating the illegal dissemination of copyrighted audio content, but nonetheless found herself on the wrong end of a massive lawsuit.

Since no judge would hear a case against Ms. Santangelo because of her obvious lack of computer savvy necessary to pull off the crime for which she was accused, the charges against her were summarily dismissed. Not to be foiled, the RIAA instead filed a secondary infringement suit against Santangelo and targeted her children with the primary charges.

Judge Colleen McMahon, however, isn’t satisfied with the RIAA’s case against Ms. Santangelo. Expressing distaste with the RIAA’s legal tactics, McMahon has laid down an ultimatum to the RIAA, with both options basically requiring that the organization embrace defeat.

Eric Bangeman at Ars Technica has more:

The choice is clear-cut for the RIAA: either proceed with a full-blown jury trial in which they will have to convince a jury that the defendant is guilty of secondary infringement—making the same argument that the judge in Capitol v. Foster didn’t buy—or agree to an order dismissing the action with prejudice. 

Dismissing the case with prejudice would then make the RIAA liable for any legal fees incurred by Santangelo regarding her defense, a bill that the organization isn’t exactly thrilled about having to pay.

The greater truth here, however, is that the legal system is growing weary of the RIAA’s chicanery. I expect that Judge McMahon’s posture will set the precedent for cases to come, and we will begin to see the RIAA think twice before filing whimsical lawsuits against ordinary citizens for exorbitant amounts of money.