In their crusade against illegal file sharing, it looks like the Recording Industry Association of America has taken their job a bit too seriously. Ars Technica reports that one exonerated defendant may bring suit against the RIAA for malicious prosecution, and there may be more.
Tanya Andersen, a disabled single mother who lives in Oregon, was sued in 2005 by the RIAA for file-sharing, but denied the claim, stating that there was lack of any evidence of infringement apart from an IP address. Despite this, the RIAA forged ahead with the lawsuit and partook in what Andersen claims were malicious acts including fraud, racketeering and deceptive business practices by the record labels.
Even an employee at the Settlement Support Center, the RIAA's prelitigation collections agent, allegedly told Andersen that he believed she had not infringed any copyrights according to the complaint.
"Instead of dismissing their false claims, the defendant Record Companies persisted in their malicious prosecution of her. They publicly libeled her with demanding and repulsive accusations [sic]" that she listened to misogynistic rap music according to the complaint."
The RIAA did finally agree to dismiss the case against her with prejudice, making her the prevailing party and eligible for attorneys fees.
Anderson has since filed the counterclaim against several major record labels, the parent company of RIAA investigative arm MediaSentry, and the RIAA's Settlement Support Center on the grounds that the RIAA engaged in fraud and negligent misrepresentation by demanding that she enter into a four-figure settlement for copyright infringement that she never engaged in. The RIAA is also accused of violating both federal and state RICO statutes, and committing the torts of intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy.
Legal analysts think the malicious prosecution suit will be hard to prove. Attorney Rich Vasquez thinks that at the very least the RIAA and its agents were engaging in unethical behavior in their quest to root out illegal filesharing activity. And if this suit gets a hearing, it may pave the way for a class action lawsuit.
"You'd have to have a lot of winners," said Vasquez. "If you have enough people bringing charges of malicious prosecution, you could then show a pattern of practices on the part of the RIAA."