Exonerated defendant sues RIAA for malicious prosecution
June 25, 2007
By Eric Bangeman
Former RIAA target Tanya Andersen has sued several major record labels, the parent company of RIAA investigative arm MediaSentry, and the RIAA’s Settlement Support Center for malicious prosecution, a development first reported by P2P litigation attorney Ray Beckerman of Vandenberg & Feliu. Earlier this month, Andersen and the RIAA agreed to dismiss the case against her with prejudice, making her the prevailing party and eligible for attorneys fees.
The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Oregon late last week and accuses the RIAA of a number of misdeeds, including invasion of privacy, libel and slander, and deceptive business practices.
Andersen is a disabled single mother residing in Oregon. In 2005, she was sued by the RIAA for file-sharing, accused of sharing a library of gangsta rap over Kazaa. She denied the allegations and filed a counterclaim alleging fraud, racketeering, and deceptive business practices by the record labels. Despite the lack of any evidence of infringement apart from an IP address, the RIAA continued to press ahead with the case until the abrupt dismissal earlier this month.
Andersen lays out an unsavory account of the music industry’s actions as it attempted to dig up evidence that she was guilty of infringement. Early on, 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.
After the RIAA filed suit, Andersen’s complaint says that she provided the name, location, and phone number of the person she believed was behind the Kazaa account “gotenkito,” the account the RIAA accused her of using for copyright infringement. “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 is also accused of trying to contact Andersen’s then eight-year-old daughter without her knowledge. “Knowing of her distress, the RIAA and its agents even attempted to directly contact Kylee,” reads the complaint. “They called Ms. Andersen’s apartment building looking for Kylee. Phone calls were also made to her former elementary school under false pretenses… Ms. Andersen learned of these tactics and was even more frightened and distressed.”
Andersen says that the RIAA acted negligently throughout the proceedings and 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, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. Andersen seeks statutory and punitive damages along with attorneys fees.
We explored the possibility of charging the RIAA with malicious prosecution last month. Attorney Rich Vasquez of Morgan Miller Blair told Ars Technica that he believed the RIAA could be vulnerable to such charges, but it would be an uphill battle to make them stick. Still, the complaint paints a very unflattering picture of the RIAA and its agents engaging in activity that was in many cases questionable and unethical at best.
The history of file-sharing litigation shows that Atlantic v. Andersen was not an isolated case of mistaken identity, and should Andersen get a favorable result here, other former defendants may follow her lead. That could lead to a potentially very costly class-action suit against the RIAA. “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.”
The RIAA told Ars that it would have no comment on Andersen’s lawsuit.