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RIAA gets some class

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The RIAA has been slapped by a class action lawsuit, filed by Tanya Anderson, a single mom from Oregon who claims the organization's goons impersonated her 10-year-old daughter's grandmother over the phone to extract evidence.

Charges filed against the RIAA include — deep breath now — counts of negligence, fraud and misrepresentation, racketeering and corruption, abuse of the legal process, malicious prosecution, outrage and intention to inflict emotional distress, computer fraud and abuse, trespass, invasion of privacy, libel and slander, deceptive business practices, misuse of copyright laws, and civil conspiracy.

The case was spotted by the ever-watchful folks at The Recording Industry vs The People. You can grab a copy of the complaint at their website.

The lawsuit fingers the RIAA, a number of record labels under the organization's umbrella, and MediaSentry - a firm the RIAA uses to sniff out individuals suspected of illegally swapping copyrighted music.

Anderson claims the non-profit RIAA engages in a coordinated enterprise scheme of threatening and intimidating litigation to maintain a music distribution monopoly.

The suit alleges MediaSentry "conducts illegal, flawed and negligent investigations for the RIAA and its controlled member companies." It goes on to say that for years the group has entered a secret agreement targeting private citizens.

From the filing:

MediaSentry and the RIAA know that their investigations are illegal and flawed. MediaSentry is not licensed or registered to conduct private investigation of private US citizens. Moreover, in a March 2004 sworn deposition MediaSentry's then president admitted to various serious flaws in the investigative scheme which all Defendants know result in misidentification of individuals.

The process

The lawsuit describes the RIAA's sinister machine, which it alleges clogs and abuses the federal court with baseless lawsuits.

First, the RIAA and controlled members file information farming suits against anonymous "John Doe" parties to coerce internet service providers into identifying the users behind particular IP addresses. Because no specific parties are named, the lawsuit claims those targeted are often deprived of due process and never know the RIAA is harvesting their private information. After the information is gathered, the anonymous suits are typically dismissed immediately before the individuals know they have been "secretly sued," robbing them of the opportunity to appear in court to protect their identities.

The RIAA's next step is sending "threatening and misleading letters," that contain false allegations and omissions. The letters are confusing, claiming the recipient has both "already been sued," and "have not yet been named as a defendant." The letters tell the recipient that all the necessary evidence has been secured and the recipient has 10 days to make contact with the RIAA before a federal lawsuit is filed against them.

The class action suit claims 10 days does not provide the letter recipient with any meaningful time to investigate the allegations. The letter also conveniently neglects to inform the recipient that they were the subject of a private "illegal" investigation, or that there is a known possibility for error or mistaken identity.

"With its legal expertise, the RIAA has a heightened duty to act reasonably, responsibility, and legally to avoid foreseeable harm...," the suit claims. Despite knowing the nature of the investigations, it has acted negligently when it conspired and coordinated with MediaSentry. The RIAA has used the information gathered on a "campaign of threat and extortion."

If the complaint is certified for class action, it could pave the way for others harassed by the RIAA to join the lawsuit. Such a confrontation was bound to happen given the organization's notorious tactics, and should it fail, more would doubtlessly find their way to court. ®

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