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FSF Reaches Out to RIAA Victims 329

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the armor-for-the-little-guy dept.
NewYorkCountryLawyer writes "In what has been termed the ''RIAA's worst nightmare', the Free Software Foundation has announced that it is coming to the aid of the victims of RIAA lawsuits, by establishing an Expert Witness Defense Fund to assist defendants in RIAA cases. The purpose of the fund is 'to help provide computer expert witnesses to combat RIAA's ongoing lawsuits, and to defend against the RIAA's attempt to redefine copyright law.' The funds will be used to pay fees and/or expenses of technical expert witnesses, forensic examiners, and other technical consultants assisting individuals named as defendants in non-commercial, peer-to-peer file sharing cases brought by the RIAA, EMI, SONY BMG, Vivendi Universal, and Warner Bros. Records, and their affiliated companies, such as Interscope, Arista, UMG, Fonovisa, Motown, Atlantic, Priority, and others."
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FSF Reaches Out to RIAA Victims

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  • Too late (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cthulu_mt (1124113) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:24PM (#21412789)
    I like the FSF but where were they with this a few months ago.
  • Re:Too late (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PhxBlue (562201) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:26PM (#21412813) Homepage Journal
    I'll bet they were waiting for enough money from contributors to make this happen.
  • Re:Not good. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:30PM (#21412869) Homepage Journal

    There's no reason for them to get involved in intellectual property disputes of this nature (I specify because
    I could see reason to become involved in software patent IP issues).
    If the RIAA succeeds in redefining copyright law, there might not be any free as in libre software.
  • I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

    by markov_chain (202465) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:30PM (#21412875) Homepage
    if Stallman has been reading xkcd lately ;)
  • by kcornia (152859) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:32PM (#21412893) Journal
    While on the surface it may seem odd for FSF to come to the aid of P2P defendants, I think what they're really trying to guard against are future frivolous claims that could be made against open source software and the like.

    If the RIAA is able to effectively take advantage of non-tech savvy courts, it's not too much of a stretch for other IP related companies to start filing claims, infringement suits, etc. against open source applications that compete with theirs.

    Maybe I'm off base, but that's a possible reason for the FSF to be taking this course. It's more of a message to the business community at large that you're not going to have it that easy strong arming the technology world.

    What do I know though, I was a history major..
  • Re:Not good. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sm62704 (957197) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:34PM (#21412917) Journal
    You assume P2P's only use is "illegal downloads"*. BitTorrent is the perfect way to distribute free software, but its very existance is threatened by the record companies' war againsg ANY file sharing. Share a perfectly legal song that its writer/performer WANTS shared (and there are likely more legal than illegal) with the same name as an RIAA song, and you risk a lawsuit. Even naming your software "master of puppets" or "Penny Lane" may get you sued. So the FSF is indeed in the middle of this already.

    -mcgrew

    *Why do they keep talking about "illegal downloads" when it's UPLOADING that is illegal?
  • Re:And what about? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by swb311 (1165753) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:34PM (#21412925)
    The losing parties liability for court costs is one idea we could definitely learn from here in the US.
  • by physicsboy500 (645835) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:35PM (#21412935)
    Yes, the RIAA is trying to modify copyright law a bit to squeeze more money out of music they "own" at the expense of the creator of the music, and while that is a problem, most of the time it is not the issue that comes to the front when individuals are confronted with copyright infringement lawsuits.

    The big issue that has come into play is the RIAA's tactics in gathering evidence. Many times an IP address was proxied and the wrong person ends up on trial. The RIAA's biggest misstep comes into play when they search/seize without proof that the questionable internet activity came from the household they are searching.

    There have been many trials which have gone very poorly for the individual even though the RIAA gathered evidence at an incorrect location and *happened* to stumble upon something questionable.

    Don't get me wrong, it's still great that an individual has more resources when fighting an RIAA lawsuit, but many problems come up not because of the RIAA's loose definition of copyright, but because the individual defending them self doesn't know their rights.
  • Re:And what about? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ricebowl (999467) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:36PM (#21412939)

    Hmm, that sounds great in theory. The problem comes when the better-represented party, rather than the party in the right, wins. Not that I disagree that an organisation pursuing frivolous lawsuits should foot the cost of those lawsuits when they're found wanting for whatever reason, but neither system is perfect.

    On the other hand the only trial of multinational-vs-regular folks I could think of, outside the RIAA/MPAA/IFPI etc sphere, was the 'McLibel [mcspotlight.org]' case. In which the defendants won. Despite the litigious might of McDonalds. So I might've shot myself in the foot...oops.

  • Re:And what about? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hedwards (940851) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:38PM (#21412983)
    I agree with the sentiment, but what happens in Europe when the losing side was the side that was correct? Does it actually cut down on bad law suits, or does it encourage a larger spending in the hopes of winning the case anyway?

    How would one of those being sued in this case come up with the money if they lost? Being innocent of the charges isn't always enough to ensure that one wins the case. All that would do in these cases would be to encourage the RIAA to pay more and represent a larger incentive to settle out of court.

    When it comes to the cost of lawyers, often times people with a strong case can gain an attorney on a contingency basis, meaning that they lawyer takes a larger slice of the award in exchange for potentially working for free if they lose the case.

    Other times an attorney will do the work pro bono publico, although the practice can at times be shady, as sometimes the attorney will seek an award in addition to what the complainant is asking for anyways.

    What I would like to see is for the court expenses be limited to what the less wealthy side can afford, and if the wealthier side wants to spend more, require them to cover the difference whether they win or lose. With the Judge in the case ruling whether the sums of money involved are reasonable.
  • by kcornia (152859) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:39PM (#21412997) Journal
    You mean without equivalent experts on your side to appropriately and properly point out, to a non-technical jury, the giant holes in their evidence.

    That's the way I interpret FSF's involvement. They're not arguing innocence or guilt, they're just making sure both sides have appropriate technical representation vs. the ridiculously one-sided "Grandma Jones and her AOL account vs. RIAA's team of electrical engineering PhDs".
  • by evanbd (210358) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:43PM (#21413035)

    I would think the best way to help the average Joe is to give his average lawyer a set of clearly-defined, well-argued precedents and examples to base the defense on. Having the precedents and example arguments be stronger will help more people in the long run than trying to help everyone at once.

    There's no way the fund can help everyone directly; I imagine it will help more people in the long run by carefully choosing its battles and winning them well than by diluting its resources and helping lots of people who, while individually deserving, won't have the same multiplicative effect on the resources spent.

  • Re:Bad idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Virgil Tibbs (999791) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:47PM (#21413075) Homepage
    I support the fsf
  • by kwandar (733439) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:57PM (#21413173)

    "What about having a disinterested party as the fund adviser?

    I frankly don't understand your point (or why anyone modded you up), and if you RTFA you'd see that Ray Beckerman is not the "sole" advisor. "The Fund will be advised by Ray Beckerman, the author of Recording Industry vs. The People, along with a group of selected attorneys acting as advisors"

    I also want a VERY interested party to decide where funds should go, and why wouldn't it go wherever it hits the RIAA the hardest? You do realize it is a common law system right? Court decisions are relied on by other courts, meaning that if you hit the RIAA hard, you might knock them out for all future lawsuits.

    If the objective is to kill these RIAA lawsuits in the most efficient and effective manner, then why the hell wouldn't I want Ray Beckerman managing it?! Hell - I'm donating BECAUSE Ray is managing it, and being in Canada I don't even get a tax dedcution!

  • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Monday November 19, 2007 @05:58PM (#21413185) Homepage

    I'm a card carrying FSF member, and I fully support this sort of behavior on their part. The issue of file sharing is already threatening software freedom - if they can help to make it clear that the RIAA are just jerks trying to abuse the legal system, the RIAA will have less power to try to outlaw software. That's what this is really about - whether software that allows people to share arbitrary data with each other should be considered to be evidence of criminal activity.

  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Monday November 19, 2007 @06:01PM (#21413217) Homepage Journal
    Because the FSF is first and foremost about Freedom, and very much against any kind of DRM-like crap.

    The RIAA, on the other hand, is one of the primary promoters of DRM.

    Their lawsuit circus is mostly for show. One, they use it to create ammo for their lobbyists ("look how many evil people are out there, we're suing in the thousands but we simply can't get them all, we need new laws, give us new laws, btw. how's the wife? how about a nice holiday with her to fix things up again? or a nice willing young lady if it doesn't work?") and two they use it as intimidation towards Joe Public in order to stall the inevitable.

    I think the FSF is pretty much in the right battle here, because if the RIAA gets their way, we won't end up with DRM'ed music, we will end up with DRM everywhere (if you really want to "protect" music from being copied, you need to have total control of every part of the soft- and hardware).
  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by compro01 (777531) on Monday November 19, 2007 @06:04PM (#21413249)
    yes but the RIAA trials are creating interesting/dangerous precidents/opinions on IP law, which the FSF does rely upon, as copyright is nessesary to use copyleft. suitable changes/interpretations could render the creation of Free software extremely difficult, if not impossible.

    it is very much in their interest to get involved with this before it starts to have direct effect on them, as by then it has gathered inertia and will be that much harder to reverse.
  • Re:And what about? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Monday November 19, 2007 @06:23PM (#21413511) Journal

    The losing parties liability for court costs is one idea we could definitely learn from here in the US.

    Yes, because when Grandma needs to seek justice against some large corporation that wronged her, she should definitely have to worry about paying their legal fees if she loses.

  • Re:And what about? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Monday November 19, 2007 @06:30PM (#21413569) Journal

    Sounds like a great way to screw the lawyers

    Ya know, my karma will probably get beat all to hell for this, but not all lawyers are bad.

    Get charged with a crime you didn't commit and then tell me how you feel about defense attorneys. Get injured by someone whose insurance company refuses to pay for your treatment and tell me how you feel about them.

    Do you have a negative opinion of the lawyers working for the FSF? How about the ACLU lawyers fighting for your civil liberties? How about this guy [wikipedia.org] or this guy [wikipedia.org], both of whom were lawyers.

    Lawyers represent their clients. You'd be doing better to direct your anger at the RIAA for the lawsuits and not their lawyers.

  • Re:And what about? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday November 19, 2007 @06:35PM (#21413631) Journal
    Easy to fix. The loser pays the winner the loser's legal fees. If you only spend a small amount then your risk is small. If Grandma sues MegaCorp with a single lawyer and looses then it only costs her twice whatever her lawyer charges. If MegaCorp loses then Grandma gets all of her fees paid as well as whatever damages are awarded.
  • by jays8088 (969633) on Monday November 19, 2007 @07:03PM (#21413953)
    The right answer is to starve the beast. As much as I love music, I will not buy another CD as long as the music industry persists in these law suites. I will only buy music when I can buy it directly from the artist, without a music company in the middle and then only from artists that do not support suing their fans. Nor, will I go out and p2p music, I will simply go without. If artists with contracts with the record labels want to make money from me, they will have to do it the old fashion way. Come out and perform. I know it's a lot more work that spending time in a studio and expecting to royalty checks to roll it but I'll buy a ticket if your music is good. I will no longer purchase products from any record label that is a member of the RIAA until they change their ways. Let's stop complaining about the RIAA and do something by doing nothing. The loudest sound we can make is the sound of our wallets and pocket books snapping shut.
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Monday November 19, 2007 @07:08PM (#21413999)
    I agree. Punishment should be done in the interest of society as a whole, not in the interest of one person who was wronged. Correcting the ills that befall the victim is what actual damages are for. Why should a person (or their lawyers) get a windfall because they ran afoul of misfortune or malice?

  • Re:And what about? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by evanbd (210358) on Monday November 19, 2007 @07:16PM (#21414089)

    That's done to an extent already. Legal fee awards in cases are normally capped to "reasonable" levels. When trying to determine what is reasonable, the opposing side's legal fees are considered directly relevant. If I'm asking for 50k in legal fees, you're going to have trouble complaining that my legal fees are unreasonable when you spent 100k on the same case. This was the direct cause of the interesting legal wrangling over whether or not the RIAA's legal billings would be revealed as part of the Foster case -- she was seeking legal fees, and the RIAA was contesting her fees as too high.

    I'd much prefer to see it codified in a loser-pays system as you and the GP are suggesting, though.

  • I would think the best way to help the average Joe is to give his average lawyer a set of clearly-defined, well-argued precedents and examples to base the defense on. Having the precedents and example arguments be stronger will help more people in the long run than trying to help everyone at once. There's no way the fund can help everyone directly; I imagine it will help more people in the long run by carefully choosing its battles and winning them well than by diluting its resources and helping lots of people who, while individually deserving, won't have the same multiplicative effect on the resources spent.
    Well spoken, evanbd. Couldn't have said it better.
  • But what about... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ClayJar (126217) on Monday November 19, 2007 @07:28PM (#21414223) Homepage
    Rich corp sues single mom. She spends $100k defending herself through a long, pitched legal battle. She finally wins.

    Meanwhile, the corp has only spent $50k on the baseless accusations, as they get a bulk rate on their worthless experts and they used staff lawyers paid far less than partners (or some associates). After all, they didn't really care if they won *every* case, just some of them.

    Anyway, the single mom is exonerated, but she is only paid $50k of her legal fees. The other $50k is her expense. That's only fair, eh?

    The problem with "loser pays up to what loser spent" is that there exist entities that can afford to "file in bulk" and who don't really care to win, just to harass enough to force a settlement. The individual defendants don't get the benefit of the economies of scale, and as the defendants can't afford to lose, they have to pay for "higher quality" representation (or at least, they have to pay for a lawyer to handle their case, as opposed to paying a law firm to stamp out 500 cases with little intent to follow through on them all).
  • Re:And what about? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Monday November 19, 2007 @07:39PM (#21414351) Journal

    If Grandma sues MegaCorp with a single lawyer and looses then it only costs her twice whatever her lawyer charges.

    Which is still more then many people can afford. I'm somewhat leery of doing anything that makes it harder to use the legal system. And how would your idea account for people whose lawyers take the cases on contingecy?

    Perhaps what we need is some sort of public defender type system for people without the resources to defend themselves in civil court. Your idea of 'loser pays' does nothing to help the person facing the RIAA lawsuit if they don't already have the money they need to defend themselves.

  • Re:Go FSF! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mr_matticus (928346) on Monday November 19, 2007 @08:48PM (#21414971)
    Well now, "IP infringement" is not theft. But that is simply because theft is not the same as stealing, something that someone spent all of their mod points burying last time I brought it up. Slashdot wants to make the semantic argument that "the owner is not deprived of anything" (which is not true, but more importantly, totally beside the point), but they don't ever want to hear people actually apply the science of semantics to those statements.

    Infringement is not theft (just like it's not larceny, robbery, or [usually] conversion). It is, however, stealing (which is not by itself a crime, misdemeanor, or even a tort and moreover is not even universally a moral wrong).
  • Re:Go FSF! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) on Monday November 19, 2007 @11:09PM (#21416065) Journal

    I pay people to do things that I can't do on my own, or don't want to do. If you ask me to pay you for something that I can easily do myself, you're basically asking for charity.

    Precisely. So if you can create music more cheaply than an artist sells it, then you are invited to do so. You would be legitimately competing against the artist, and providing a similar contribution to our culture. If, however, you mean to say you don't need the artist to make a copy for you, then that's false. You still need the artist to make the original for you. No amount of copying will provide you with that. Your copied version is not a fair competitor to the artist's version, since he happens to be your supplier. All piracy does is make sure the art industry collapses under itself.

    Those people, however, need to grow the balls to request payment for what they actually do, instead of playing coy by asking to get reimbursed for making copies.

    So it's your contention that the artist should ask for a lump sum payment up front for the original work? Who exactly do you expect to pay for that? I am under the impression that making copies is a fine way of "requesting payment for what they actually do", since it means that almost everyone can afford to reap the benefits of what would otherwise be a costly affair.

    That is: you want to get paid for creating a song? Fine, tell me (or a few thousand other people like me) what your idea is like and how much it's going to cost us. Collect the money, record the song, and then the transaction is over. Once you've been paid for making that song, it's no longer any of your business where we listen to it, how many copies we make, or who we share those copies with.

    Ah, so I see. It's a fine business model, probably not as efficient as the current one, since people know that they'll be able to get the art for free (and legally) once everyone else pays. It also wouldn't always truly reflect demand, since larger sums would be much harder to orchestrate, so artists would be forced to either take a lower entry price and get money immediately, or try for market price, and have to wait a long time, or possibly have it fail.

    Tell you what. If you create some art, feel free to sell it like that. Other artists who feel that the other method is better will sell it their way. We'll let the two business models compete it out on the free market, and we'll see who gets more out of it. Since you can't reasonably expect a copyrighted work to be created without copyright, your art will be sold exactly as if there were no copyright at all. I guess we'll see who's business model is superior.

    But again, the value isn't "stolen", because the work doesn't become any less valuable as more people obtain copies of it.

    Look, let me break it down. Many artists just want to be paid as much as they can for creating their work. Creating unlimited copies discourages people from paying the artist. Lack of payment discourages the artist from creating art. Lack of art is not good. If everyone copies artists' works instead of paying for them, then sooner or later, the pool of available artists will dry up, and there will be nothing new to copy. The works that are currently under copyright will eventually expire (if a little later than they should), and you will have all the rights you could want to whatever work you have your eyes on. By allowing the premature raiding of the cultural piggy bank, you exchange very temporary gains for long-term cultural wealth.

    They are the same, and thinking about one song as two "products" is a mistake. It's the same song either way.

    The difference is that one song is paid for, the other isn't. It is a difference. One supports our culture, the other drains it. Think about what you're neglecting to pay for when you next illegally download a copyrighted work.

    But once a song has been recorded, they can c

  • Re:And what about? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lar3ry (10905) on Monday November 19, 2007 @11:35PM (#21416283)

    I mean, the vast majority of people are flat out guilty and the settlement is giving them an out relatively cheaply.

    Please cite the studies that show that this is indeed the case. I could look at the people that settled and make an assertion that is equally valid that the settlements were simply extortion fees paid by people that didn't have the money to pursue a legal case, and not necessarily an admission of guilt.

    I have seen claims made by the RIAA in reports of cases that they have made that were simply untenable—that an IP address uniquely identifies an individual, that a person that sent a laptop to be repaired and had the hard drive replaced was intentionally destroying evidence, and that a computer screenshot that shows an IP address is conclusive proof that a person was sharing files (I can construct a screenshot that shows any IP address and make any claim I want by those rules of evidence).

    What I have NOT seen is any evidence offered that sharing files in any way hurts the RIAA, its member companies, or even the artists, performers, or composers. How much do radio stations pay to play a single recording and make it available to millions of potential listeners? And how much per song is the RIAA demanding for people that they claim are sharing files? How long will the courts allow the RIAA and its companies to claim damages anywhere near the amounts they are currently claiming? If the damages they claim are intentionally misleading, then isn't this perjury?

    The RIAA can make up any "facts" it wants to support their cases and then pull damage amounts from their asses and present them to the courts with a straight face. This is simply ridiculous, and it is my earnest hope that they finally get called on it and be made to pay the piper.
  • Re:And what about? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by aproposofwhat (1019098) on Monday November 19, 2007 @11:41PM (#21416349)
    I think you're wrong about the 'flat out guilty', for two reasons.

    Firstly, it's a civil case, so 'guilty' should really be replaced with 'liable'.

    Secondly, if the recent ruling in the George Washington University case [slashdot.org] that the RIAA have to show probable cause has any merit, then it is debatable whether any real copyright infringement has actually taken place. (read the motion submitted by John Doe #3 in that case for details.)

    Yeah, possibly people have been sharing for free what the RIAA members believe they have a right to be remunerated for, but whether such sharing is actually illegal is a moot point at this time.

  • Re:Go FSF! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Curunir_wolf (588405) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:46AM (#21417049) Homepage Journal

    Look, let me break it down. Many artists just want to be paid as much as they can for creating their work. Creating unlimited copies discourages people from paying the artist. Lack of payment discourages the artist from creating art. Lack of art is not good. If everyone copies artists' works instead of paying for them, then sooner or later, the pool of available artists will dry up, and there will be nothing new to copy.

    I'm not sure what you are talking about, here, but it's not art. Maybe it's widgets. Widgets are not art - they are products designed to sell to some perceived or existing market.

    Artists don't have to be paid to produce art, they produce it because the want to. Indeed, often because they have to. They have done it since the first cave man chiseled a bear on a cave wall, and they will continue to do it forever.

    There have for a long time been people that valued art enough to ensure that the artist were paid for their work, and thus had more time for art instead of having to also perform other work to make a living. This is a good thing. Recently there have been whole corporations that hired artists to produce art works, then made money selling copies. Often huge amounts of money. Many artists got very rich.

    Unfortunately, that kind of system also attracts the widget makers. Teams of widget makers often get together and produce something they call "art" (it's not) and make huge sums of money selling copies.

    And what's the point in making them? Pretty much no point at all if you want money for them.
    Good. If all you're doing it for is money, it's probably not very good anyway. Without all those widgety things crowding the ether, the truly insightful and inspiring art will flourish, enriching us and encouraging other would-be artists.

    One supports our culture, the other drains it.
    I'd say it's more like "one supports our culture, the other corrupts it."

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