September 10, 2003

RIAA tries to rescue PR disaster with quick settlement

- by Joe Barr -
Brianna LaHara, a 12-year-old honors student from New York caught in the RIAA's shotgun blast of 261 lawsuits fired blindly into a crowd of KaZaA users, faced the possibility of fines of between $750,000 and $150 million before the RIAA announced a settlement had been reached. That might have seriously cut into her weekly allowance, but Sylvia Torres, the child's mother, settled late yesterday afternoon for a mere $2,000.

RIAA spokesperson Amanda Collins declined to comment when asked who had actually come up with the $2,000 for the settlement, or whether the RIAA had forgiven the amount in exchange for a quick settlement and comments afterwards.

That a quick settlement was needed by the RIAA to try to stop the bleeding of its public image after the embarrassment of having unknowingly sued a 12-year-old is beyond question. The news was being reported everywhere and it had already become fodder for radio talks yesterday afternoon.

Perhaps that is why the very first thing the RIAA sent me when I inquired if they were going to seek the death penalty against Brianna was their press release detailing the settlement. No mention was made in the press release, however, of a 71-year-old man who was also reportedly among those on the receiving end of the RIAA legal action.

According to the press release, Ms. Torres said after the settlement, "We understand now that file-sharing the music was illegal. You can be sure Brianna won't be doing it any more." Brianna stepped up to add: "I am sorry for what I have done. I love music and don't want to hurt the artists I love."

All 260 of the remaining filesharers face the possibility of at least those same humongous fines noted above. The formula is the range of punishment the court decides multiplied by the number of infringements. The RIAA says only the most egregious filesharers were sued, so the multiplier for each of them is at least 1,000. Under current U.S. copyright law, the court can award damages of between $750 and $150,000 per infringement.

Joe Barr has been writing about technology for 10 years, and about Linux for five. His work has appeared in IBM Personal Systems Journal, LinuxGazette, LinuxWorld, Newsforge, phrack, SecurityFocus, and VARLinux.org. He is the founder of The Dweebspeak Primer, the official newsletter of the Linux Liberation Army.

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