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RIAA Defendant Returns Legal Fire

A woman accused of illegally downloading 1,400 gangsta rap tunes is counter suing the music industry for allegedly violating Oregon's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO).

While normally used against organized crime, RICO laws are also used against businesses in cases involving alleged criminal activities. In the case of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Tanya Andersen and her attorneys claim the music industry's widespread lawsuits are exercises in "extreme acts of unlawful coercion, extortion, fraud and other criminal conduct."

Andersen is one of the more 10,000 individuals sued by the RIAA for illegally swapping copyrighted songs over peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. The RIAA is seeking more than $1 million in damages from Andersen, a 41-year-old single mother.

The only problem, she claims, is that she has never downloaded a single song.

"She specifically denies she downloaded or distributed any music or that any acts of infringement occurred," the counter suit filed Friday in the Portland district court states.

According to Andersen's attorney, Lory Lybeck, the RIAA filed a "Jane Doe" suit last year in Washington, D.C., seeking the identity of the names of owners of various IP addresses identified as illegal downloaders.

The RIAA obtained Andersen's IP address through MediaSentry, which patrols P2P networks on behalf of the music industry looking for infringing activities. It then uses the information to support litigation and send automatically generated cease-and-desist letters to alleged infringers.

Lybeck told internetnews.com that Andersen only became aware of the legal action when her Internet service provider informed her that the RIAA subpoenaed her IP address. In February, Andersen received a letter from a Los Angeles law firm informing her she was being sued by the RIAA.

Andersen was directed to the Settlement Support Center, a company organized by the music industry to work out settlements with the targets of the RIAA lawsuits.

Lybeck claims Andersen contacted the Settlement Support Center and professed her innocence. The Center claims there is evidence Andersen downloaded songs at 4:30 a.m. under the log-in name of "gotenkito."

Andersen again denied the claim, said he had never used or heard of the log-in name in question and asked that the Settlement Support Center to inspect her computer to prove that the charges were false.

"An employee of Settlement Support Center admitted to Ms. Andersen that he believed that she had not downloaded any music," Andersen's counter suit claims. "He explained, however, that Settlement Support Center and the record companies would not quit their debt collection activities because to do so would encourage other people to defend themselves against the record companies' claims."

Instead of investigating Andersen's claims, the RIAA filed a lawsuit against her.

The RIAA had no comment on Anderson's suit. However, previous attempts to use RICO statutes against the music industry have failed.

"No downloading or distribution activity was ever actually observed. None ever occurred," the counter suit claims. "Regardless, the record companies actively continued their coercive and deceptive debt collection against her. Ms. Andersen was falsely, recklessly, shamefully and publicly accused of illegal activities in which she was never involved."

The RIAA has 20 days to respond to the counter suit.