RIAA Piracy Dragnet Snares Popular Female Musician, Deceased Man, and Three-Legged Kitten

October 2, 2003

The Recording Industry Association of America's third and latest round of lawsuits has snared a popular female musician, a deceased grandfather, and a three-legged kitten in its ever-widening copyright infringement dragnet.

According to a recent story in Wired, the RIAA on Monday began a new week of filing lawsuits against individuals accused of illegally sharing copyrighted music via the popular filesharing network Kazaa.  In all, 134 new civil lawsuits have been filed as of Thursday morning, affecting music fans in 19 states. 

Popular Singer-Songwriter
Jewel stands accused of
illegally sharing music online.
During the last two rounds of the recording industry trade group's lawsuits against consumers who listen to music over the Internet, defendants have ranged in occupation from a retired plumber to a wealthy businessman, and have ranged in age from a twelve year old girl to a woman in her 60s.  The third and latest round of lawsuits filed this week extends the scope of the RIAA's anti-piracy net even further by filing suits against such unexpected targets as the popular singer-songwriter known as Jewel, a grandfather from Tennessee who has been dead for more than two years, and a three-legged kitten owned by a family in Lincoln, Illinois.  The suits are seeking damages of $150,000 per downloaded song, the maximum allowed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act signed into law by President Clinton in 2000.  The RIAA only wants what is fair, however, and has said it is open to negotiate modest settlements with most defendants.  Previous defendants have settled with the RIAA for a relative pittance usually between two and ten thousand dollars.

"Our strategy is to cast as wide a net as possible in order to snare, educate and harass a broad-ranging scope of music consumers," explained RIAA president Carey Sherman, "We hope this will send a message to Americans of all ages and demographics that listening to music that is copyrighted by any of our member labels could land you in court and could bankrupt you."

Neither Jewel nor representatives for the deceased man could be reached for comment, but Frank and Linda Wilson, who adopted the three-legged kitten in August, said they were surprised and dismayed by the RIAA's lawsuit, and said that Zachary, the kitten in question, had no idea he was doing anything wrong when he downloaded and listened to his favorite songs on Kazaa.  The suit claims Zachary was sharing three songs - Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car", "Stan" by Eminem, and Master P's "Make 'em Say Ugh Nigga".  Together, these three songs could cause the kitten to be liable for up to $450 thousand dollars, but since it was discovered that Zachary is in fact a feline--and a disabled one no less--the RIAA has said it will settle for significantly below the maximum. The RIAA's concession is prudent as the case would be unlikely to hold up if it ever went before a judge.  It is currently very difficult to sue an animal for monetary damages in civil court, even in the U.S.  The financial damages the RIAA is therefore seeking from Zachary have been generously reduced to $4,900, and the group has urged the kitten to accept the settlement and not to drag the matter out any further. Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina) has recently proposed legislation that would make the process of filing copyright infringement suits against animals much easier in the future.

Three-legged kitten Zachary could be held liable for up to $450 thousand for sharing songs including "Make 'em Say Ugh Nigga" by Master P.

While an RIAA spokesperson stopped short of calling the suit against Zachary the kitten a mistake, the organization did admit that it was surprised to learn of his non-human orientation.  In a press release posted on their website, the RIAA explains, "Obviously we're not a greedy organization bent on taking thousands of dollars from little girls, grandmothers, and kittens, but we also have a duty to our artists to protect their creative works from being distributed and heard.  We are currently in negotiations with the kitten Zachary and his attorney, and we are certain we will reach a fair and just financial settlement that will compensate Sony, EMI and Warner Music for the works that were infringed."  The RIAA statement also leaves the possibility open that it may sue more kittens in the future, if it finds them to be illegally sharing copyrighted music online.

The newest lawsuits are being announced at the same time as the RIAA is launching its "Fight for the Music" test campaign in California elementary schools, which encourages students to report their peers and family members to the RIAA if they suspect them of downloading and listening to music with their computers.  Under the program, any student who submits seven or more tips in a month will receive a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut and a medium Pepsi drink.  If the program is successful, it will be launched nationwide in the spring.  The RIAA has pledged to donate a significant percentage of the money gained from suing music consumers back to participating schools, a deal which many California schools are likely to accept given current budget constraints and expanding class sizes due to a massive influx of Latinos.

In related news, the RIAA said this morning that the Clean Slate amnesty program has been extremely successful.  The Clean Slate program is offered to infringers who want to come forward and voluntarily add their names to the RIAA's "naughty list".  The Clean Slate program asks people who have downloaded music in the past but who have not yet been identified or named in a lawsuit to turn in a notarized confession of guilt, along with a recent photo and valid social security number to the group's lawyers.  In return the RIAA promises to not use the data they collect for any purpose.  So far the RIAA has received numerous signed amnesty forms, naming cartoon characters, the sons and daughters of senators, and sexual organs as former music pirates who want to change their ways.  The RIAA is pleased with the amount of data they are collecting and would like to encourage people who have already completed the original affidavit to complete the "refer-a-friend" amnesty form as well if they know of anyone else who has downloaded and listened to music online. 

The "Refer-A-Friend" program requires a notarized signature and a thumbprint, but to allay privacy concerns voiced by extremist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the RIAA has promised to not use the names they collect through the refer-a-friend program for any reason.  They will also be mailing anyone who completes either amnesty form an armband and "Copyright Enforcer" certificate to compensate the concerned citizen for their time.

The RIAA currently has legislation pending in Congress that would make purchasing fourteen qualifying music CDs a year compulsory for every American over age 18.  It is expected to pass through both houses and be signed into law with relatively no opposition.


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