RIAA Sues Deceased Grandmother

The recording industry's latest assault on file sharing has netted an unusual suspect: a deceased great-grandmother from West Virginia. In a lawsuit filed in January, the RIAA accused 83-year old Gertrude Walton of sharing over 700 pop, rock and rap songs under the alias "smittenedkitten."

What the RIAA didn't know is that Walton had passed away in December following a long illness. Her daughter, Robin Chianumba, has lived with Walton for the past 17 years and told the Charleston Gazette that her mother refused to even have a computer in the house.

The Recording Industry Association of America admitted that Walton was likely not the smittenedkitten it was after, blaming the mixup on the time it takes gather information on illicit file swappers.

"Our evidence gathering and our subsequent legal actions all were initiated weeks and even months ago," said RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy. "We will now, of course, obviously dismiss this case."

But to many, Walton's case underscores fundamental problems with the RIAA's effort to crack down on peer-to-peer piracy. Because online identities are mostly anonymous, industry police utilize IP addresses to track the specific Internet account sharing music. Unfortunately, the process is riddled with inaccuracies and sometimes innocent -- or deceased -- people are fingered as pirates.

"I believe that if music companies are going to set examples they need to do it to appropriate people and not dead people," Chianumba told the Gazette. "I am pretty sure she is not going to leave Greenwood Memorial Park to attend the hearing."

The process doesn't need to be perfect, however. While the RIAA may not have enough hard information to win in court, most named defendants opt to settle for a few thousand dollars and a promise they will cease file sharing activities rather than face recording industry lawyers.

"I don't know if this is a scheme to get money, I just don't know what's going on. I am concerned," said Chianumba.

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