RealTime IT News

RIAA Amnesty: Deceptive Business Practice?

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which filed 261 civil lawsuits earlier this week against alleged online music pirates, became a litigation target itself after a Novato, Calif., man slapped an injunctive action against the music trade group claiming its "clean slate" amnesty program is a deceptive business practice.

In addition to the lawsuits announced on Monday, the RIAA said it is starting an amnesty program for those who voluntarily identify themselves and pledge to stop illegally sharing music on the Internet. RIAA President Cary Sherman said the RIAA will guarantee not to sue file sharers who have not yet been identified in any RIAA investigations and who provide a signed and notarized affidavit in which they promise to respect recording company copyrights.

Eric Parke, a 37-year-old mortgage broker, says in a lawsuit filed in Marin County Superior Court in San Rafael that the amnesty offer is "hollow and deceptive" and provides "no real legally binding assurance" that those who sign the amnesty offer will not be sued at some later date by copyright owners.

"There's little of anything in the amnesty offer that's legally binding on the part of the RIAA," Ira B. Rothken, Parke's San Rafael-based attorney, told internetnews.com.

The lawsuit claims the RIAA amnesty consists of "deceptive and misleading representations by the RIAA including a 'guarantee not to sue' file sharers designed to induce members of the general public ... to incriminate themselves and provide the RIAA and others with actionable admissions of wrong-doing under penalty of perjury while members of the general public actually receive ... no legally binding release of claims and no actual 'amnesty' from litigation in return."

The RIAA's actual amnesty agreement states that in exchange for admitting to past copyright infringements and agreeing to delete "from my computer(s) and storage devices (including portable devices) all copyrighted sound recordings downloaded, copied or shared using P2P networks," the RIAA agrees "not to support or assist in any copyright infringement against me based on these past activities."

Rothken said the agreement needs to have a release from all legal claims and the lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction to "stop the RIAA from engaging in unlawful, misleading, and fraudulent business practices including advertising an 'amnesty program' that does not provide real amnesty from lawsuit and a 'Clean Slate Program' that does not a provide a real 'clean slate.'"

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization, agrees with the lawsuit.

"While the RIAA claims that this is an amnesty program, it doesn't actually have the authority to grant real protections from civil lawsuits. It doesn't own any copyrights, and its member labels aren't bound by this arrangement," the EFF states on its Website. "This means that you could still be sued by the major record labels that fund the RIAA, songwriters or any other copyright holders. Plus, the RIAA would almost certainly turn over this information in response to any valid subpoena."

As of Thursday morning, the RIAA had no official statement on the lawsuit, but Matt Oppenheim, the organization's chief legal counsel, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "We're not asking anybody to tell us what songs they downloaded, we're not threatening to break people's legs. But if you would like some comfort that you can sleep at night after you engaged in illegal behavior, here's a way to get that comfort."

An RIAA spokesperson told internetnews.com Thursday morning that the trade group is not making public how many people have sought the amnesty program.

In other developments related to the RIAA lawsuits filed against alleged file swappers:

  • The RIAA released a survey on Wednesday conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates between Sept. 4-6 that the RIAA claims shows an "overwhelming majority of music consumers" support and understand the industry's decision to gather evidence and take legal action "against individual computer users who are illegally sharing substantial amounts of copyrighted music online."

    The survey question, asked of 803 consumers age 10 and over, was: "When you hear that the recording industry is gathering evidence and preparing lawsuits against individual computer users who are illegally sharing substantial amounts of copyrighted music online, would you say that you are supportive and understanding of the recording industry's decision to take these actions, or unsupportive and negative about what the recording industry's decision to take these actions?"

    According to the RIAA, 52 percent said they were supportive and understanding of the industry's actions, while 21 percent said they were unsupportive and negative.

  • Online media retailer MusicRebellion.com said it they would give $2,000 in free music to the 12-year-old girl who settled her lawsuit with the RIAA for illegally swapping music files on the Internet. The settlement was reached on Tuesday between the RIAA and Sylvia Torres, mother of Brianna Lahara, who had offered more than 1,000 copyrighted song tracks on the family's personal computer.

    The Terre Haute, Ind.-based company said it has "no intention of ever donating to file swappers again, but hopes that online music fans, who might otherwise be unaware of a legal alternative, will now recognize the vast availability" of legal downloads available on the Web.

  • P2P United, a file-swapping trade group that includes Grokster and StreamCast Networks, said it has offered to pay Lahara's $2,000 settlement and described the RIAA actions as a "sorry episode."