If you haven’t already heard the name Patricia Santangelo, pay close attention, because you may be hearing it a lot more soon.
The RIAA’s jihad against thousands of not only defenseless, but often completely clueless and at least sometimes innocent individuals in the name of “stamping out illegal downloading” is by now legend. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has already sued more than 16,000 individuals for, they claim, illegally downloading copyrighted music. A huge number of the lawsuits have settled with the individuals paying the RIAA a few thousand dollars and promising not to do it again, even if they didn’t do it in the first place. Even if they couldn’t have done it in the first place (the RIAA has sued such evil-doers as the 83-year-old and dead grandmother Gertrude Walton, and 12-year-old Brianna LaHara).
Even if each of the suits settles at only $2,000, and even if, say, 10,000 settle with 6,000 not settling, the RIAA will net over 20 million dollars as a result of its legal harassment of John Q. Download. And this helps the artists whom they claim to be protecting exactly how?
Not that I am saying that illegal music downloading isn’t wrong. On the contrary, it’s very wrong, and in fact we published what may be one of the only articles which clearly explains exactly why downloading illegal mp3s takes money out of the artist’s pocket.
But that’s not the point. The point is the RIAA’s ridiculous witch hunt, which as done nothing to dent illegal music downloads, while doing everything to strongarm and cow individuals who have no idea what the RIAA is accusing them of, let alone how to do it.
One victim of the RIAA’s overzealous cookie-cutter lawsuits, however, isn’t going to take it, and isn’t going to be cowed.
Patricia Santangelo is a forty-three year old single mother of five who, according to the federal court itself, is “an internet-illiterate parent, who does not know Kazaa from kazoo, and who can barely retrieve her e-mail.” Yow. Yes, that’s a direct quote from the judge in the federal court into which the RIAA has hauled Patricia Santangelo, accusing her of downloading such 43-year-old single mother favourites as Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life”, Incubus’ “Nowhere Fast”, and Godsmack’s “Whatever” (um, that was irony for those of you who didn’t recognize it, I don’t know any forty-three year olds who would even listen to that music, let alone go out of their way to acquire it).
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When the RIAA came a’knocking, demanding that Santangelo pay her legal tithe and sign the paper saying that she was not now and never would be a member of the downloading party, Santangelo, unlike thousands before her, refused to go along with the expensive charade.
Explained Santangelo, “It’s a moral issue. I can’t sign something that says I agree to stop doing something I never did.”
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Unfortunately, she also can’t afford the defense to prove that she didn’t do it. Already in the hole $24,000 in legal fees, and not even at trial yet, the mother of five has been forced to let her lawyer go, and defend herself. To go it on her own against all of the RIAA’s fancy high-priced lawyers and legal might.
Still, even her former attorney thinks that she’ll prevail. Said Ray Beckerman, the lawyer who was representing Patricia Santangelo before she ran out of money, “I’m sure she’s going to win. I don’t see how they could win. They have no case. They have no evidence she ever did anything. They don’t know how the files appeared on her computer or who put them there.”
Anybody’s best guess is that a friend of one of Santangelo’s children, who range in age from 7 to 19, may have been the culprit.
According to Patricia Santangelo, it all started with a call from the RIAA’s “settlement center”. They claimed that during an investigation they had found hundreds of illegal downloads on her computer, and demanded that she pay them $7,500 “to keep me from being named in a lawsuit,” explained Santangelo.
Hmm…you threaten a woman whom even the court has deemed not only not competent to have downloaded the music, but whom the court has called an “Internet illiterate”, with your big legal guns if she doesn’t cough up $7,500? Sure sounds like a protection racket to me.
Of course, the RIAA sees it differently. “Our goal with all these anti-piracy efforts is to protect the ability of the recording industry to invest in new bands and new music and give legal online services a chance to flourish. The illegal downloading of music is just as wrong as shoplifting from a local record store,” said an RIAA spokesperson.
So what will happen when Patricia Santangelo has her day in court? It’s really anybody’s guess. While her former attorney thinks that she will win, she’s up against a daunting foe.
Industry critic John Newton perhaps summed it up best when he opined “She’s a courageous woman to be taking on the multibillion-dollar music industry.”
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