Why did the RIAA sue one Shaun Adams of Grand Island, Nebraska?

Those who were familiar with the Recording Industry Association of America's declaration last December that it was discontinuing its strategy of lawsuits against individuals suspected of illicit song sharing, were puzzled to learn through blog sources late yesterday that the RIAA had filed suit last Tuesday against an individual in Nebraska. Is there a particular reason for this suit; did RIAA members decide to make an exception?

As RIAA spokesperson Jonathan Lamy told Betanews this morning, the true facts are that this is no exception. The filing on Tuesday against Shaun Adams of Grand Island is actually the formalization of action the studios had already initiated against him prior to their mutual December decision.

"What we have said from the very beginning...In the fall, we ceased filing new lawsuits against new defendants," Lamy told Betanews. "That is, no new pre-lawsuit letters were sent to colleges and no new John Doe lawsuits against commercial ISP subscribers were initiated. But for cases already initiated in some fashion, we would need to continue those through for legal reasons. That means, for example, that a university student who was sent a pre-lawsuit letter in the spring and who ignored it could have been sued as 'John Doe' in the fall (next step in the process) and then as a named defendant now (if the defendant ignored the John Doe lawsuit and our follow up settlement letter). That, by way of example, is one case -- already initiated in the spring. So, a suit that has reached the name defendant stage was initiated months ago with several legal steps preceding it. It's not 'new!'"

As attorneys who have apparently represented defendants in RIAA cases have explained (among them, Chicago attorney Charles Mudd), RIAA members' strategy last year was to file "John Doe" lawsuits against the ISPs of the suspected illicit file sharers. These are documents seeking the identity of individuals typically based on evidence gathered through tracking software. Although in 2005, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the RIAA could not use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as grounds for subpoenaing ISPs for their clients' identities, in individual cases, courts can now grant the right for the RIAA to subpoena an ISP for "expedited discovery."

In such cases, it's possible that a defendant may not know that any legal action is pending against him until his ISP turns over his identity, assuming it does so. So for that reason, the initial suit does not need to be filed in the "John Doe's" home district, just in the business district of his ISP.

There is no precise count at present of just how many of those "John Doe" cases are still outstanding. However, a list of attorneys known to be representing clients pursued by the RIAA, compiled by noted anti-RIAA blogger and attorney Ray Beckerman last April, clearly shows one law firm in Grand Island, Nebraska.

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