RIAA's Suit Against Mom Fails, So it Sues Kids

PERSPECTIVE The recording industry seems to be unable to know when to say when. Take for example the case of Patricia Santangelo: the White Plains, N.Y. mother of two was sued by the recording industry last year for downloading pirated music.

However, unlike many others who have cowered to the powers that be at RIAA, Patricia shocked the world when she refused to settle and pay a $7,500 fee to keep her name out of a lawsuit. Sensing it was losing the battle, the recording industry has now gone after her kids instead.

According to the Associated Press among other sources, daughter Michelle Santangelo, 20, and brother Robert Jr., 16, were sued in a White Plains Federal court on Wednesday. The RIAA says that Michelle admitted downloading in a deposition, while a friend of Robert has incriminated him.

There are a couple of problems with the RIAA's defense. Jordan Glass, the family's lawyer who was present during Michelle's testimony, says he doesn't remember Michelle admitting guilt. Meanwhile, Robert's friend's claims of joint guilt seem tenuous at best: he recently settled with RIAA.

The number of RIAA-filed suits now number in the thousands, with many of them likely legitimate. But several high-profile cases of mistaken identity -- including a case where the group sued a dead grandmother -- along with no apparent standard for which those sued have to meet, means RIAA has now ceded the moral high ground.

RIAA having the moral high ground? Yes, they did. Let's face it, downloading pirated music is illegal, no matter which way you spin it. But instead of suing those who were the biggest offenders, and being satisfied that they had shut down the majority of peer-to-peer networks supplying this content, they opted for scare tactics.

Now it seems to matter less whether you downloaded 10 or 10,000 songs, you are both equally at risk of being sued by the recording industry. What it has become is something equivalent to the Salem Witch Hunts of the late 17th Century - more of a public spectacle than an actual criminal investigation.

One has to wonder, if just like those witch hunts, Robert Santangelo's friend squealed on him in order to protect himself.

So what are we left with? Instead of the RIAA being respected for doing what essentially is their legal right, they are now enemies in the eyes of many consumers. Some argue that the industry's attempts are more of an anti-competitive measure rather than an action on the merits of copyright law.

This same type of hubris was shown in the contentious negotiations with Apple and iTunes. Instead of being happy with the price levels at 99 cents, which study after study has shown to be an ideal price to both generate revenue for the record labels and continue to reduce piracy, greed once again took over.

Steve Jobs said it best at the time: "We're trying to compete with piracy, we're trying to pull people away from piracy and say, 'You can buy these songs legally for a fair price.' But if the price goes up a lot, they'll go back to piracy. Then everybody loses."

It seems that the RIAA is less interested in enforcing the law, and more interested in controlling every part of the nascent online music industry - from where you get it, to how much you pay for it, and what you can get. And in the end, they aren't just hurting consumers, but also themselves.

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