An Oregon woman is suing the music industry trade association in a case that could force the group to reveal how it targets people in its campaign to curb illegal downloading and sharing of music online.

That knowledge could prove useful for higher-education officials, many of whom have been critical of the highly secretive process by which the group has singled out college students and demanded money from them—a technique that leaves the students with an unpleasant choice: pay a few thousand dollars right away, or face the prospect of an even more costly lawsuit.

Tanya Andersen, who claims the recording industry’s anti-piracy campaign threatens and intimidates innocent people, has filed a new complaint accusing record companies of racketeering, fraud, and illegal spying.

Andersen originally sued the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) after RIAA representatives threatened to interrogate her young daughter if she didn’t pay thousands of dollars for music she downloaded from somebody else.

Her amended complaint, filed March 14 in U.S. District Court in Portland, seeks national class-action status for other people allegedly victimized by the industry’s anti-piracy campaign. The lawsuit names the RIAA and the company it hired to identify purported instances of piracy, MediaSentry, as co-defendants.

The RIAA tracks alleged file-sharing activity to an IP address, then files a John Doe lawsuit (made possible by a 1999 federal law) to find out the identity of the individual who uses that IP address. Then, the RIAA subpoenas universities, which have access to the student names linked to those suspected IP addresses, to reveal the students’ identities. The accused can avoid a costly legal case by “pre-settling,” but they lose their rights to legal representation if they do so.

Since 2003, the RIAA has sent roughly 26,000 “pre-litigation” letters to people across the country. Many of those letters ask the recipients to pay between $3,000 and $4,000 to “pre-settle.”

Andersen’s lawsuit accuses the industry and MediaSentry of spying “by unlicensed, unregistered, and uncertified private investigators” who “have illegally entered the hard drives of tens of thousands of private American citizens” in violation of laws “in virtually every state in the country.”

The information is used to file “sham” lawsuits intended only as intimidation to further the group’s anti-piracy campaign, the lawsuit says.

Lory Lybeck, the attorney for the Beaverton woman, said the lawsuit is partly aimed at forcing the industry to reveal how extensive its spying has become.

“We’re very pleased that we’ll finally be able to force the RIAA and MediaSentry to give up secret records they have steadfastly refused to disclose in tens of thousands of cases that they’ve filed,” Lybeck said.

Jonathan Lamy, an industry spokesman, said the new complaint repeats old claims.

“It is unfortunate that this case continues to drag on after the court previously deemed all of Ms. Andersen’s claims inadequate,” Lamy said. “We hope to resolve the case in short order.”

The complaint notes the case began when Andersen, a single mother, was sitting down for dinner with her then 8-year-old daughter at their home in August 2005 and a legal process server knocked on her door with notice of an RIAA lawsuit falsely alleging copyright infringement and demanding penalties.

The RIAA’s lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Ashmanskas, and Andersen countersued.

Oregon seems to have become a battleground for those resisting the RIAA’s efforts.

Andersen’s complaint is similar to one filed in federal court against the industry by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers on behalf of the University of Oregon to protect the privacy of 17 university students the RIAA has accused of music piracy.

The University of Oregon case marks the first time a state attorney general has tried to block an RIAA subpoena seeking the identity of students suspected of illegal downloads.

Deputy Attorney General Pete Shepherd said in November that the state is not trying to protect students who break the law, but added that the state must protect students’ privacy and the subpoenas go too far.

“We don’t think the university can be compelled to produce investigative work for the recording industry,” Shepherd said.

Stephanie Soden, a spokeswoman for Myers, said the state is monitoring the Andersen lawsuit.

“We’re definitely watching it closely,” she said.

Links:

Recording Industry Association of America

University of Oregon

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