In November 2004, the Recording Industry Association of America sued Deborah Foster for copyright infringement, claiming her IP address was connected to illegal downloading. It expanded the suit to include her adult daughter Amanda and won a default judgement against Amanda. But the RIAA kept going after Debbie, trying to nail her for secondary copyright infringement. In July 2006, a federal judge threw out the charges against Foster, dismissing the case with prejudice and making Foster eligible to win attorney's fees.
Yesterday, the judge ruled on how big the fee award would be and it's substantial: $68,685.23. The RIAA has never been ordered to pay attorney's fees in any case, says Ray Beckerman, a lawyer who tracks the RIAA's actions against Internet users at Recording Industry vs The People.
The RIAA told News.com in a statement: "We respectfully believe that this ruling is in error and is an isolated occurrence." But that statement doesn't indicate whether they will appeal or just hope that it doesn't happen again.
The RIAA clearly engages in predatory lawsuits, writing letters to victims asserting the statutory fine of $150,00 per violation and making a one-time-only settlement offer in the four figures.
After Foster won in court, EFF, the ACLU and Public Citizen wrote amici briefs supporting the award of attorney's fees.
"A fee award would encourage innocent accused infringers to stand up and fight back against bogus RIAA claims, deter the RIAA from continuing to prosecute meritless suits that harass defendants it knows or reasonably should know are innocent, and further the purposes of the Copyright Act by reaffirming the appropriate limits of a copyright owner's exclusive rights," they wrote.
RIAA defended its legal strategy today in a statement.
"Our interest in these cases is enforcing the rights of the record companies and artists, while fostering an online environment where the legal marketplace can flourish and the music industry can invest in the new bands of tomorrow," the group said in a statement. "In the handful of cases where the person engaging in the illegal activity in the household is not the person responsible for the ISP account, we look to gather the facts quickly and do our best to identify the appropriate defendant."