Wednesday, March 28, 2007

RIAA crumble in the face of "no"

The weakness of the RIAA's cases against alleged filesharers has been demonstrated again; this time when an attorney issued a counter-challenge. Seniors Barry and Cathy Merchant were accused of cramming the internet full of gangsa rap, and invited by the RIAA to reach an out-of-court settlement or face the consequences. Instead, they retained Merl Ledford, who wrote back to the RIAA, pointing out that they probably didn't have any evidence, and that their attempts to get money out of the Merchants left the RIAA and their lawyers open to legal action:

Your office has a duty of good faith independent factual investigation and legal research sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to sue.

In Williams v. Coombs (1986) 179 Cal. App. 3d 626, the California Court of Appeal held that attorneys who participate in the filing or maintenance of litigation without probable cause are personally liable for malicious prosecution of a civil action.

Ledford then points out that, effectively, the RIAA's lawyers are no better than cold-calling salespeople:
I know of no facts on which a good faith finding of probable cause by either your clients or your law firm could be based to support a claim for relief against Mr. Merchant.

It is well documented that your clients' reliance on MediaSecurity (an admitted "non-expert;" UMG v. Lidor, East Dist NY No. 1:05-cv-01095-DGT-RML) and its overall method of identifying P2P copyright infringers is wholly unreliable and inadequate. See, e.g., February 23, 2007, deposition of the RIAA's expert. See also expert witness statement of Prof. Pouwelse and Dr. Sips: filename=foundation_upcnederland_witnessdeclaration and amicus curiae brief of the ACLU, Public Citizen, Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Association of Law Libraries, and ACLU Foundation of Oklahoma, in Capitol v. Foster decrying the RIAA's "driftnet" litigation strategy:

Such facts were known or reasonably should have been known to you and your law firm before suit against Mr. Merchant was filed. Thus, unless you and your office undertook additional independent investigation to identify Mr. Merchant as a person who actually has engaged in copyright infringement by illegal downloading, good faith basis for a Rule 11-compliant probable cause finding consistent with the Williams line of cases cited above simply did not exist to file the action. . . and does not exist now for it to be maintained.

Your clients apparently argue that Mr. Merchant's failure to respond to "settlement" demands justifies their lawsuit without other basis on which a finding of probable cause to sue could be claimed. You devoted the bulk of your letter advocating that position. As you know, however, that posture is repugnant to both Rule 408, Fed.Rul.Evid. and California Evidence Code §§ 1152 and 1154.

The Evidence Code sections are quite clear: settlement negotiations of all kinds may not be used to prove the validity of any claim or defense. Mr. Merchant has and had no more duty to respond to attempts to "sell" him one of your clients' boilerplate, non-negotiable $3750 settlements than he has to return cold calls from pushy life insurance salespeople. If your client (and your law firm?) are seeking probable cause shelter in a settlement negotiations house of straw (as suggested by your March 23 letter), all of you should consider the prevailing winds of the Evidence Code before making yourselves too comfortable. Straw will burn.

And then he suggests that the RIAA open its eyes to the way that identity on the web is easily spoofed:
Your client take the position that my middle-aged, conservative clients should speculate regarding the identity of persons your clients' claim used their AOL account to download pornographic-lyric gangsta rap tracks as predicate to possible case resolution. In an age of Wintel-virus created bot-farms, spoofs, and easily cracked WEP encrypted wireless home networks (among other easy hacks), the only tech-savvy response to such a request is, "You've got to be kidding." The extensive press that has been generated over computer security (and the insecurity of Windows XP and its predecessors) underscores the complete absence of facts on which probable cause to sue my clients could be established and your clients' willingness (even insistence) that others be implicated in Big Music's speculative, "driftnet" litigation tactics. Sorry: Mr. Merchant cannot and will not expose himself to still more litigation by speculating.

The letter rounded off by offering to let the matter drop if the RIAA & lawyers apologise and settle the Merchant's costs in responding to the matter.

The RIAA has, perhaps unsurprisingly, dropped its case.

They effectively admit they had no evidence and that they were demanding money with menaces. Isn't it time the US authorities started to look into this nice little earner?

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