03
Aug
07

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]

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