Litigating the Almighty…

I ran into an interesting article today, about a rather unusual case. It appears that no target is to great for the odd frivolous lawsuit. Or so this Nebraska lawmaker claims:

State lawmaker Ernie Chambers filed a lawsuit Friday against the Almighty — acknowledging he/she goes by numerous aliases — for causing “fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues” and other alliterative catastrophes.

The suit, Chambers vs God, asks the court for a “permanent injunction ordering defendant (God) to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terrorist threats” which affect innumerable persons, including Chambers’s constituents.

Chambers told local media he filed the suit to make a point about frivolous lawsuits frequently seen in US courts, citing a recent one against a judge. – [Yahoo/AFP]

OK, bud, we get the point. Notwithstanding the fact that it is common knowledge that there are a vast number of frivolous lawsuits brought to court in any given week, I fail to see how this particular stunt proves anything.

Any judge in their right mind would throw this out. And that will be that. And he wont have proven anything we don’t already know. Like the fact that he has too much time on his hands…

God sued over pestilence and terror – [Yahoo/AFP]

The RIAA is crazy… Like a fox…

I just read an article talking about how the RIAA is now going after the Universities for failing to forward pre-litigation settlement letters to suspected file sharers:

Warner Music, EMI, Vivendi Universal and Sony BMG’s RIAA has come up with another tactic in their attacks on American university students.

It’s now blaming the schools themselves.

The Big 4 enforcement unit is after 16 Philadelphia students, completely ignoring mounting universal outrage against the ongoing harassment.

Actually, this is not so surprising. It fits perfectly with their current modus operandi of suing anyone they possibly can, notwithstanding the legal dilemma of actually trying to prove anyone actually did anything. What is not so obvious is what thier strategy is, and what it does and does not accomplish:

An RIAA ‘press release’ says “unsettled cases” were, “either because the university failed to forward a pre-litigation letter to the student or because the record industry’s initial settlement offer of a discounted settlement was ignored”.

As p2pnet posted, until fairly recently, the Big 4’s practice, “was to have about 750 subpoenas aimed every month not only at adults they were accusing of being massive online distributors of copyrighted music, but also very young children,”… – [p2pnet]

Now here are the important numbers. 750 subpoenas/pre-litigation letters a month. At around $3000 – $5000 per settlement. If we assume the minimum of $3000 per suit and 100% successful settlements, then relying on my rusty math skills that gets them somewhere in the region of $2,250,000/month. $2.25million a month. Thats $27Million a year. How exactly did they come up with these settlement figures?

Now given that file sharing does not seem to have been affected in any significant way by any of this, it seems to me like these lawsuits have taken on another purpose. Like a secondary income. And not just from illegal file sharers, but from anyone they think they can get away with suing. P2P software providers, P2P sites, college students, universities, parents, kids, it doesn’t seem to matter any more whether the people being slapped with pre-litigation papers were actually engaged in the practice of illegal file sharing or not.

The unfortunate thing about this is that you do not even have to be guilty for the RIAA to slap you with a suit. The RIAA knows full well that for the average citizen, it will be cheaper to settle, than to try and retain legal counsel to defend themselves in court, no matter how innocent they are, and are taking full advantage of that fact. The RIAA has adopted the methodology of a crime syndicate that moves into a bad neighborhood, and starts charging all the store owners, both good and bad, for “protection” money.

I can understand the need to prosecute those who are engaged in illegal file sharing, but it doesn’t even seem like they are even really going after file shares any more. Given the nature of some of the targets of these litigation letters, some of who are clearly innocent, it almost sounds like they are pretty much just pulling names out of a hat. Don’t any of the governing authorities see this is getting out of control?

RIAA blames universities for lawsuits – [p2pnet]

A SLAPP in the face of a fair legal system…

I read an interesting article about the MPAA and RIAA strategy for dealing with copyright infringment and, in particular, file sharing:

Going up against big guns
For insight into how tough it is to oppose the entertainment sector, consider the conclusions of some long-shot copyright cases Rothken worked on: RecordTV and ReplayTV ran out of funds before their cases were heard, and MP3Board.com settled.

There’s no telling whether the start-ups would have survived had their cases gone to trial, but Rothken argues that shouldering legal fees and bad press didn’t help.

Applying financial pressure is only part of Hollywood’s strategy, Rothken said. Another tactic is to sue founders as well as their companies. In 2000, the RIAA filed a copyright suit against MP3Board.com, a music-file search engine, as well as the company’s founders.

Instead of risking their own income, the operators of MP3Board.com settled the case and decided to stop linking to MP3 files, Rothken said.

“I can’t say what the MPAA’s strategy is,” said Gary Fung, founder of IsoHunt, a TorrentSpy rival and Rothken client who also is being sued by the MPAA for copyright infringement. “But they do know they have more time and money than we do.” – [C/Net News]

There is no doubt that file sharing technologies have contributed to the illegal piracy of music and video. I also cannot argue that the MPAA and the RIAA have a right to file suits against those who decide to share copyrighted works illegally. That being said, this is decidedly not what they are doing. They have taken the decidedly unrealistic approach of attacking the technologies rather than the people doing the file sharing.

The various entertainment associations have sued numerous torrent tracker sites, on the basis that they are helping promote illegal file sharing. Now it may just be me but this seems to me no better than suing the gun industry for the common use of firearms in the commission of crime, or automobile makers for the high incidence of drinking and driving. And as usual, those who use the technology for legitimate purposes are always the ones to suffer.

What is even more distressing to me is not simply the fact that these suits are brought at all, but rather the strategies being used to win these suits. Rather than relying on the strength of the case, the RIAA and MPAA have begun a the methodical practice of SLAPPing defendants into submission. The SLAPP or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, is designed to ensure a settlement not by virtue of any legal argument, but by wearing down the defendants financial resources until they are unable to afford to continue their defense.

This to me, is the ultimate abuse of the legal system. The fact that this type of activity is legally allowed to happen should be a cause of great concern, even for law abiding American businesses and citizens, because it means that the outcome of future suit brought against you may not be determined by the validity or legal strength of the suit, but rather by who has the most money. And that situation is fundamentally anathema to the concept of a fair and equitable legal system.

TorrentSpy lawyer battling ‘copyright extremism’ – [C/Net News]

More RIAA College Shenanigans.

The RIAA is at it again:

Under the new scheme, the RIAA sends out what it calls ‘pre-litigation’ settlement letters. Actually, they’re self-incrimination documents and they’re designed to extort preset amounts of around $3,000 from students with the empty promise that by paying up, they’ll remove the threat of being hauled into court on charges of copyright infringement.

In reality, all the students are doing is providing the RIAA with personal and private information which can conceivably be used against them at some point in the future when the Big 4 agency ramps up to a new level of intimidation.

In the sixth wave of blackmail, the RIAA is targetting 23 universities nationwide with 408 ’settlement’ letters. – [p2pnet.net]

Yet again, the RIAA has resorted to mass mailing “pre-litigation” letters to specific colleges in an attempt to intimidate students into settling. I have, in a previous post, pointed out some of the legal pitfalls of this methodology, and why the RIAAs proposed case should never hold up in any but the most technologically ignorant court.

But the article above brings up even more reasons why such a case would be hard to prove, such as the possibility of spoofed IP packet addresses, where the IP address present in an IP package is not necessarily that of the computer that sent it. This and other factors, make identification by IP address, especially in a communal environment, with technologically savvy participants, a near worthless form of identification.

And it would appear that the RIAA knows fully well that this is the case, as it appears that many of the more prestigious, (and presumably more technology/law happy/savvy) colleges, such as Harvard, Yale, etc are conspicuously absent from the list, in spite of the fact that they would almost certainly have had a large number of file sharers among their populace.

It would appear that these “pre-litigation” letters amount to little more than blatant attempts to make suspected file sharers engage in self incrimination. If I were a student, staff, faculty or member of the administration at any of these 23 universities, I would consider this a great insult to my intelligence, and would refuse to cooperate with the RIAA simply on principle. But then again, that could just be my antisocial tendencies rising to the fore…

RIAA student victimisation campaign – [p2pnet.net]

This Lawsuit Stinks…

Just read another example of what I consider an abuse of a perfectly good law:

Susan McBride’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, says the work environment is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. She wants a ban on such scents at work — and unspecified damages. – [Yahoo/AP]

I have one question. Since when did having an overly sensitive nose become a disability? Is an allergy to dust and pollen a disability? Should allergic folk now be able to sue companies to ensure that nearby plants do not produce pollen during allergy season? Ok, so that was three questions, with (maybe) an unfair example.

But I still don’t see how anyone should be able to sue a company because someone elses’ perfume makes them sick. That, to me, is like setting the office thermostat at 90degrees and making everyone else sweat it out just because your arthritic knee flares up when temp gets below 85. It’s inconsiderate and selfish. It’s your problem. Don’t make it everyone else’s. And using the law to do so only makes it more heinous in my book.

Eau de Lawsuit: Woman sues over scent – [Yahoo/AP]

Can’t Buy Love… But you can steal it?

I just ran into yet another law that completely misses the point. Apparently an Illinois man won a suit against a man whom he accused of stealing his wife’s affections:

Arthur Friedman used a little-known state law to mount the legal attack against Blinov. The alienation of affection law, one of eight across the country, lets spouses seek damages for the loss of love. – [Yahoo/AP]

OK, this just seems wrong to me on a myriad of levels. First of all, how is it possible to legally “steal” someones affections? And how exactly does the “thief” become liable? I understand the concept of one man stealing another mans wife in an emotional context, but as a suable offense it doesn’t seem right. To start of with, legally, a marriage is a contract between a man and his wife, not a third party. If she cheats on you with a third party, she has broken the contract, not the third party.

It seems to me that as a husband, it would simply be petty to blame a third party for your wife leaving you. It’s not like women are brainless creatures that must be protected from the advances of others because they have no will of their own. She was fully aware of what she was doing, and she knowingly decided to break her vows, not the guy who pursued her, even if he is a real jerk for doing so. If anything, the wife should have been sued. If not for the fact that I have seen even stupider laws on the books, It would amaze me that such a law existed. I’m no legal or social science genius but my guess would be that this law was written in considerably more chauvinistic times.

But even more silly than that ridiculous law, is the fact that, if my understanding of the article is correct, this was apparently a “swinging” couple, and (if we are to believe the testimony of a cheatin’ wife) it sounds as if it was Mr. Friedman who persuaded Mrs. Friedman to start “swinging” as a means to spice up their sex life! Honestly, none of this makes sense to me. First, If a couple is having marital problems, their first solution should be to TALK, openly and honestly to EACH OTHER about them! Maybe get counseling. Sleeping with third parties, while it may sound like a good idea to some, is rarely a good solution, as this couple found out!!

Now I’d be the last person to judge anothers life style. I’m sure many couples find that swinging spices up their sex life. I’ve actually even read of cases where it made the marriage stronger. But regardless of what activities a married couple engages in, I am fairly certain that they worked best when these couples were in a secure, honest and open marriage to begin with, and they came to the decision to do these activities TOGETHER. This couple apparently did the opposite. And then started pointing fingers and blaming others for the result. Typical.

[In my best "Bernie Mac" impression]

Listen up America! You need to start taking responsibility for your actions! Stop abusing and hiding behind all these stupid laws and deal with each other like real, honest, thinking, feeling human beings!! Stop being greedy and selfish and petty, and maybe you won’t have so many problems to begin with!! Aaaiight! I’m out! Peace Out America!
[/Bernie Mac]

Werd…

Illinois man files suit over lost love – [Yahoo/AP]

What Goes Around Comes Around…

Looks like the RIAA is finally getting a taste of it’s own litigious medicine.

Former RIAA target Tanya Andersen has sued several major record labels, the parent company of RIAA investigative arm MediaSentry, and the RIAA’s Settlement Support Center for malicious prosecution -  [ARS Technica]

Apparently they continued to press her with settlement calls, letters, attacked her character (on the basis of the shared music in question being misogynistic rap? This one caught me by surprise!) etc. even after she provided them with proof that she had no involvement in the act. They even harassed her granddaughter about it. If she wins this case, it will open the door for numerous other counter suits, and as I see it, they will deserve every single one.

The truth is, the reason that they are in the position they are in now is because they refused to innovate. They refused to recognize that the Internet has changed the way that people buy, listen to and share music. They viewed the Internet and more importantly, file sharing, as a direct competitor to their aging brick and mortar sales model, rather than as a possible source of complementary income.

And as if that were not enough, they shot themselves in the foot by adopting an adversarial stance against the members of the very market they were supposed to be making their money from. They then proceeded to hammer the final nails in their coffins from the inside by going after the file sharing technologies in addition to the file sharers themselves. They might just as well have filed suit against the “intarweb”. Even the large entertainment execs have begun to realize the error of their way of thinking:

 So who killed the record industry as we knew it? “The record companies have created this situation themselves,” says Simon Wright, CEO of Virgin Entertainment Group, which operates Virgin Megastores. While there are factors outside of the labels’ control — from the rise of the Internet to the popularity of video games and DVDs — many in the industry see the last seven years as a series of botched opportunities. And among the biggest, they say, was the labels’ failure to address online piracy at the beginning by making peace with the first file-sharing service, Napster. – [Rolling Stone]

The Rolling Stone article is an excellent read, that demonstrates exactly why the RIAA is in such dire straights. And it ain’t all about the piracy. The lesson is simple. Those who do not adapt, perish.

Exonerated defendant sues RIAA for malicious prosecution – [ARS Technica]

The Record Industry’s Decline – [Rolling Stone]

P2P Suit Abuse…

Ok, I just read yet another article that all too painfully demonstrates the lengths that the RIAA will go to bolster it’s income, for lack of a better description. The article below referred to a case of P2P file sharers on the University of Washington campus. The RIAA alleged that members of the student body had been engaged in file sharing, and had approached the university on the issue. After mulling it over, this is what they decided:

“UW said it will forward notices of pending lawsuits from the Recording Industry Association of America to students who engage in illegal downloading on the university’s computer network.

The notices say offending students have 20 days to settle with the association by paying it about $3,000 to $5,000 or be taken to court without possibility of a settlement…

…The university will not pass the students’ names to the association, but it will use its server to identify them and inform them of their settlement options before they get stuck with a lawsuit, Godfrey said.” – [The News Tribune.com]

Now I see quite a few issues here. First, while it is theoretically possible to identify which computers may have been involved in file sharing, there is no way to verify that the actual owner of the computer was actually the one who did the file sharing. Unlike a home or office, where the number of different people that would have access to any given computer is usually limited, in a dorm room, it is usually a free for all. Most dorms are fairly accessible, and any one of a given residents friends or roommates could generally and reasonably be expected to have access to anothers computer.

Next there is the base assumption by the RIAA, upon which this massive anti P2P campaign is based, that all of this file sharing means lost sales. OK, let’s think about this for a second. The fact that someone downloaded an album does not mean that they would have bought it, regardless of whether or not they could afford it. That is an illogical assumption. The mount of music piracy that occurs is not, by any means, directly proportional to the number of lost sales.

Which brings me to the other point that makes no sense. I cannot blame them for filing suits against illegal file sharers, but where is the RIAA coming up with the settlement figure? An average CD can be had for about $20 from any one of the myriad of online music vendors and clubs that distribute music. $30, maybe for a hot item at full price. At $3000, each defendant would have had to have pirated at least 100 full priced CDs each. At $5000 they would have had to download over 166 CDs (at full price), or at the very least, 250 regularly priced CDs. And thats not counting additional promotions and discounts, etc.

Now that’s a lot of CDs, I don’t care how fast your connection is, and it’s unlikely that any of these students could possibly have downloaded that much music in the time frame given. And I think it’s a fair bet that the RIAA knows this. I think this is nothing more than the RIAA using the law to intimidate people into a reduction of file sharing, and, more heinously, recoup their losses from slumping sales. Yet another example of a $67 million pair of pants… just on a smaller scale. Or larger, depending on how you look at it…

UW will abet file-sharing lawsuits, it says – [The News Tribune.com]

The $67 Million dollar pair of… Pants…

I was just reading today about that amazing administrative law Judge, Roy Pearson, who had sued a local, Korean family owned dry cleaning business for the astounding amount of $54 Million for a pair of pants (at a generous $13 million discount) that he claimed they had lost.

His claim, reduced from $67 million, was based on a strict interpretation of the city’s consumer protection law — which imposes fines of $1,500 per violation, per day — as well as damages for inconvenience, mental anguish and attorney’s fees for representing himself. – Yahoo/AP

Thankfully, this so called judge lost his case, and this is being claimed as a victory for the legal system, demonstrating that the legal system still works. However I’m not so sure this can really be claimed as a victory. This Mr. Pearson was actually a bona fide judge when he filed that ridiculous suit. What kind of a legal a system lets a person like this become a judge? What sane person could justify a $67 Million dollar suit for a pair of pants? And what kind of a Judge is this Pearson character going to be?

Frankly this whole incident actually makes me even more concerned than relieved, because there appears to be a greater, more insidious problem here than the simple need for litigation reform. I could understand this kind of behavior from your average, greedy, money hungry, litigious American citizen. But a Judge? How many more members of law enforcement, and our justice/legal system, people who we rely on daily to protect, serve, enforce law and mete justice in our communities, suffer from similar (or worse) character flaws? And how did the system allow them to get there?

Dry Cleaner Wins Missing Pants Case – [Yahoo/AP]