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Court Appoints Pro Bono Counsel For RIAA Defendant 123

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the level-the-playing-field dept.
NewYorkCountryLawyer writes "In what could be a turning point in the RIAA's litigation campaign, a Michigan judge has decided to appoint pro bono counsel to represent college student Brittany Kruger, who is being sued by the RIAA in SONY BMG Music Entertainment v. Kruger. As this article points out, 'if other judges follow suit, things will change dramatically.' That is because the RIAA's entire litigation campaign is based upon economic inequality of the litigants: almost none of those sued by the RIAA can afford legal representation, and the RIAA has a huge economic incentive to fight cases to the death, while the defendants have no economic incentive greater than the 'settlement' amount, which they often pay even when entirely innocent. If the courts follow the lead of District Judge Timothy P. Greeley [PDF], and appoint pro bono legal counsel, the RIAA will no longer be able to achieve the easy pickings default judgments and 'settlements' it's routinely obtained in the past."
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Court Appoints Pro Bono Counsel For RIAA Defendant

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  • Faulty assumption? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lead Butthead (321013) on Friday July 17, 2009 @04:17PM (#28735143) Journal

    This assumes the appointed pro-bono counsel is competent and interested in the welfare of his/her client, which may or may not be the case.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by scubamage (727538)
      They're required to be interested in the welfare of their client. The issue is more that a public defender will likely have 40-50 cases to worry about, where a private defender may have 2-3. That means more time to spend on each one.
      • by MarkvW (1037596) on Friday July 17, 2009 @04:51PM (#28735463)

        Pro bono is not the same thing as public defender.
        Public defenders are for criminal cases--this is civil.

        There are lawyers in big firms who take on cases for the public good. These lawyers have an enhanced sense of social responsibility. Pro bono is short for "pro bono publico" (for the benefit of the public).

        The pro bono lawyer will probably be skilled and ethical and not simply out to make a name for himself/herself. The defendant won't get absurd theatricals and stupid gamesmanship, but will get decent fair representation.

        That alone should be a pain for the RIAA.

         

        • Pro Bono is short for Pro Bono Meo.

          Lawyers take pro bono cases to gain recognition.
          You want to be a PARTNER of this firm? Hmm, well, you don't have much pro bono experience...

          It's like high school kids doing community service.
          They don't give a shit about the community, they give a shit about their college applications.

          • by MarkvW (1037596) on Friday July 17, 2009 @05:35PM (#28735855)

            Your statement is not correct. I know of many lawyers who take pro bono cases because they think that it is the right thing to do.

          • by ari_j (90255) on Friday July 17, 2009 @05:41PM (#28735903)
            Actually, as an attorney, I can say that it's not always that cynicism-worthy. Many young, bright attorneys choose to work for firms that give them leeway to take on pro bono cases, specifically because they know that they can do some good for the world by taking them. I personally hate the numerous times every week that my phone rings and I think to myself, "I wish I could afford to help this guy for free, because what was done to him is just plain wrong.," and then explain that it's not the type of case I can handle on a contingency fee basis and that it will cost him X dollars per hour. I give every person who calls me the advice not to chase bad money with good, and all too often they take it, much to my chagrin, because I really wanted to help them out.

            That said, by most attorneys' third year at the mega-firms that have very pro-bono-friendly policies, they fit the pattern you described to a tee. Youthful idealism gives way to wanting more status symbols fairly rapidly when you work at those places.
        • by Chabo (880571)

          and not simply out to make a name for himself/herself.

          Lionel Hutz: "Murder one!?! Wow, even if I lose I'll be famous!"

        • What? Lawyers with a heart *and* a conscience? Unpossible!

          Can someone check if Satan plays Duke Nukem Forever because it's too cold to go outside in hell?

    • by The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) on Friday July 17, 2009 @04:20PM (#28735181)

      This assumes the appointed pro-bono counsel is competent and interested in the welfare of his/her client, which may or may not be the case.

      Assuming they are competent, all I can say is that It's about time.

      • by Dan541 (1032000)

        As long as they are more competent than a collage student it's a plus.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Danse (1026)

          As long as they are more competent than a collage student it's a plus.

          Yeah, I wouldn't want an art major taking my case either...

    • by markov_chain (202465) on Friday July 17, 2009 @04:45PM (#28735421) Homepage

      Of course not, he is pro Bono.

    • by fishbowl (7759)

      "This assumes the appointed pro-bono counsel is competent and interested in the welfare of his/her client, which may or may not be the case."

      It's a hard thing to prove, but if you can prove it, the attorney can be disbarred and/or fined (and even jailed) for contempt.

      • by sumdumass (711423)

        The interesting thing is that there is no requirement for a lawyer to do anything pro-bono. They pretty much have to volunteer for it. So I'm not sure why we would be worried about someone not representing their clients when pro bono operations are more or less either some sort of ego stroking "look at me, I helped those who needed it" or are looking for exposure of some sort to further their career (again, look at me, I did a great job helping this person).

        I think that some people have this pro bono just a

        • by Dan541 (1032000)

          I think that some people have this pro bono just as confused with a public defendant as they do RIAA's civil cases with a criminal prosecution.

          Civil cases are worse than criminal case's, at least for the defendant as we have seen all it takes in a civil case is an accusation.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by azakem (924479)
      They are required by the rules of ethics to provide zealous representation to their client, even if the client is a pro bono client.
    • Outstanding lawyers may choose to take on these cases pro bono, especially at the beginning, for the publicity. But even if you get a retarded lawyer, it's probably better than the average college student strolling into court without a clue. I mean, most lawyers will go on Westlaw or Lexis and crib off of the successful RIAA cases. Soon, they'll probably all trot out the same arguments regarding making available =/= distributing and the Media Sentry stuff. I can imagine RIAA just lowering their settlement d

    • by torkus (1133985)

      Actually I don't think it's as important as you think.

      If you're faced with $bazillions in 'potential' fines and offered a settlement of $buy-a-car instead of paying a lawyer $buy-a-new-mercedes ... well we know which way many people have gone.

      Instead if you offer even mediocre legal counsel the person is much more likely to try for the newly available fourth choice of $nah-nah.

      Having to go to trial on even 20% of the extortion threats (oh, sorry, pre-trial settlement offers) would suddenly make the whole pr

  • sigh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macbeth66 (204889) on Friday July 17, 2009 @04:18PM (#28735165)

    I know I shouldn't feel this way, but I just don't care any more. The RIAA has worn me out. I hate all music now. I never want to buy any of their crap again.

    I'll just eat the magical fruit and toot myself to death.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ironically, my music consumption has gone way down as well. i used to listen to mp3s in the car but cbc talk radio has taken over my commute.
      result ? no music.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        So RIAA should be suing talk radio hosts for luring people away from music! Genius.
      • Brains turning to mush is another result, I'd see about getting that looked at.
    • by garcia (6573)

      The RIAA has worn me out. I hate all music now. I never want to buy any of their crap again.

      I have been saying for *YEARS* (long before the RIAA was pulling the bullshit they are now) that you should be listening to free music. There are plenty of bands that allow the release of their live stuff on the web and no, we're not talking about crappy Indy artists that you've never heard about before. We're talking real bands that care more about their fans and who actually tour rather than live off the royalties

      • you should be listening to free music. There are plenty of ... real bands that care more about their fans and who actually tour rather than live off the royalties of overprocessed studio shit.
        ...
        I suggest supporting those bands by buying their records

        You're a hard one to please.

      • by Nethead (1563)

        Bill: Any listening suggestions for an old deadhead?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by sbeckstead (555647)
        Ya know, I have to believe that people that advocate only patronizing free bands and such, just don't much get why there is a music industry in the first place and in not getting it they have missed a complete cultural experience that the rest of the population share in. I'm sure that these independent free bands are just fine and have great music but the usual reason for a band publishing itself is that they suck too much for the biggies to offer them a contract. The other reason of course is what the re
        • by garcia (6573)

          These bands do have labels, many are RIAA (The Grateful Dead), but they also allow their shows to trade freely. Apparently I didn't make myself clear, hope that helps.

      • by ozbird (127571)

        I have been saying for *YEARS* (long before the RIAA was pulling the bullshit they are now) that you should be listening to free music.

        Free as in beer, or free as in speech?

        There are plenty of bands that allow the release of their live stuff on the web and no, we're not talking about crappy Indy artists that you've never heard about before.

        You should get out more often. ;-) You've probably never heard of them because they are independent - or not American. Nor does that make them "crappy". My favourite b

    • magical fruit tooting is copyright material under the protection of the recording industry association of america. unless you cease and desist infringing via magical fruit toots we will be forced to bring you to litigation

      sincerely,
      Magical Fruit and the Toots, Inc.

    • by Estragib (945821)

      I know how you feel. And I know how they feel:

      Plenty more where you came from.

    • by d4nowar (941785)
      We should just listen to some public domain music! [pdinfo.com]
      If anyone needs me, I'll be listening to "Are You From Dixie, 'Cause I'm From Dixie Too" and "Be My Little Baby Bumblebee" until the cows come home.
    • by mmaniaci (1200061)

      Weird, my consumption of music has gone way up.

      $40 a year for Pandora and I get a high quality, on demand, just random enough stream of music 8+ hours a day, 7 days a week. The amount of new music I listen to boggles my mind... I hate the *IAA as much as the next, but you have to admit that our options for purchasing music have opened up recently. Digital downloads from Amazon and iTunes along with streaming services like Pandora and Last.fm are starting to grab hold. People are fed up with the music indust

    • I agree it's frustrating, and that's a very good thing. The more and more people like you that decide you are done with the RIAA's shit, the less revenue they will have to pay their lawyers. And with judges (hopefully) beginning to see what the RIAA is up to and giving the defendant a better means to defend himself (the pro bono help), it's only going to speed up the downward spiral. I haven't bought (or downloaded) any music in years and I'm enjoying watching them flail a bit :)
  • by Dan667 (564390) on Friday July 17, 2009 @04:20PM (#28735187)
    When you buy music, make sure to check http://riaaradar.com/ [riaaradar.com] to see if the album is from a company that funds the RIAA. If they do, don't buy it and stick it to them a couple dollars of lost earnings at a time.
    • And, alas, until the beast is slain, they'll attribute those dollars to the Evil Content Pirates(tm).

      We're damned if we do and damned if we don't.

      • by kheldan (1460303) on Friday July 17, 2009 @04:37PM (#28735343) Journal
        Buy used CDs instead whenever possible, and if you really want to support the bands themselves, send the the difference in cash.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MightyYar (622222)

          Any band that has signed with a major label since Napster was shut down is complicit.

          • by ari_j (90255)

            Any band that has signed with a major label since Napster was shut down is complicit.

            I agree with the fact of their complicity but not with the degree. Most bands sign with major labels because it gives them greater income, greater exposure, and an overall greater reward for their years of hard work in getting to that point. Don't punish the artists who are actually creating art just because they are part of a system that gives them no choice for ultimate success other than signing with a major label. Punish the source of the problem, not a fellow victim.

            • by MightyYar (622222)

              Hey, you sign a deal with the devil, that's what you get.

              There are a few successful acts that did not sign with the big guys. Bright Eyes comes to mind. In fact, the number 5 album at Amazon right now is Bryan Sutton, which is ranked "Safe" by RIAA Radar. A harder path to be certain, but I'll actually respect those guys.

              • by ari_j (90255)
                If you have real talent, getting signed by a major label isn't exactly an easy path. It's only easy after you get signed, or maybe even after a couple of albums when you've got enough momentum that you can bounce back when the record company stabs you in the back.
                • by MightyYar (622222)

                  Yeah, they should realize that they are not signing on to the good life - but you have to remember that most of the time these bands are starry-eyed kids. It's rare that they are savvy enough to understand what is going on.

        • by maxume (22995)

          Buying used takes a used copy off the market (making other people more likely to seek a new copy) and probably funds whoever bought the copy in the first place (making it easier for them to buy more new music).

          You can't buy something and simultaneously not participate in the market for it.

          • by kheldan (1460303)
            WTF are you even talking about? I'm offering an idea that doesn't involve downloading crappy MP3's but doesn't put money in the RIAA's pocket. What's your solution, smartass? PYR8 MOAR? WTF?
        • Buy used CDs instead whenever possible

          While that is certainly better than buy new RIAA CDs, it still doesn't completely eliminate the problem. If enough people buy used, it just increases the price of used discs. The more expensive used discs are, the more incentive there is for someone to buy a new disc and listen to it for a while and eventually resell it. The less they lose by selling it the more likely the are to buy it new. In fact, it might even cause this hypothetical buyer to purchase many more new CDs than the would otherwise becau

          • yeah but I have to say, pirating to protest getting sued by the RIAA, sounds a lot like "Fucking for Virginity!"
            • by deimtee (762122)
              Sounds good to me.
            • by kheldan (1460303)
              Seriously, yes it does. For ONCE I put up an idea that doesn't involve piracy and all I hear is "PYR8 MOAR!" from the peanut gallery. I don't buy it when they say that it'll just make the used CD market dry up and people will be incentivized to buy new instead. Not everyone saves every CD they buy just like not everyone keeps every book they buy, either. If it makes the PYR8 guys feel any better, people who sell their used CDs probably burned copies of them first!
        • Buy used CDs instead whenever possible

          Buying used CDs will most likely result in a net benefit for the labels, because the person who sold you his/her used CD will promptly go to the store and buy some other (RIAA) CD.

          • by kheldan (1460303)
            I'll say the same to you as I've said to the others: What's YOUR bright idea then? Don't say "PYR8 MOAR!" because it doesn't count, come up with a 100% legit idea.
            • Their solution is "boycott artists on major labels". Don't buy them new, don't buy them used, don't listen to them.

              No pirating necessary.

              • Their solution is "boycott artists on major labels". Don't buy them new, don't buy them used, don't listen to them.

                No pirating necessary.

                Exactly. This is what I would have answered the GP, if you hadn't preceded me.

        • I would say that 90% of my extensive music collection is from thrift stores or our library book sale. The most that I pay for cds is around four US dollars. I borrow some from our local library and rip them to my computer and then burn to a cd. I am working on burning my vinyl records to cds also. My wife and I have over 6000 records.
        • by JCZwart (1585673)
          Great advice, that seems like a marvelous remedy for all those artists I'd want to buy records from but have released their music under a label that funds the RIAA.
      • by Dan667 (564390)
        You are thinking to narrowly. As there revenue shrinks no matter what the cause, it will weaken their ability to operate. Not buying music from companies that fund the RIAA is a direct way to help.
    • by jonnat (1168035)
      <quote>When you buy music, make sure to check <a href="http://riaaradar.com/">http://riaaradar.com/</a> to see if the album is from a company that funds the RIAA.  If they do, don't buy it and stick it to them a couple dollars of lost earnings at a time.</quote>

      That was depressing... Most of the albums I own were released by members of the RIAA.
    • by 91degrees (207121)
      Trouble is, you need a critical mass of people for a boycott to work and you simply don't have it. People either don't care enough about this, or think that the boycott will just be put down to piracy.
      • by Dan667 (564390)
        critical mass never starts with everyone all at once, someone has to be first. And I don't think you realize how sensitive these companies are to bad press. Once it starts to gain any momentum, they will run for the hills screaming. And probably do so while whining they are victims of everything but their own failed business model.
    • And if possible, contact the band / musician via Twitter, Facebook, official website, etc., point to their entry on the RIAARadar website and state: "This is why I will never buy any music you create".
  • Excellent news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustNiz (692889) on Friday July 17, 2009 @04:21PM (#28735189)

    its great news, but doesn't fix the problem.
    I guess now all the RIAA will do is shift their efforts to people that earn too much to get Pro Bono, but still dont earn enough to be able to defend themselves against being hounded with litigation. In fact this is probably most of us.

    • Is there some specific income limit to receive pro bono counsel? If there isn't, how could someone have enough money to hire a lawyer to defend them (and not qualify for pro bono counsel) and at the same time not have enough money to hire a lawyer to defend them?
      • by Hyppy (74366)
        Someone who makes a decent middle-class salary may not have the means to add legal counsel to the list of bills.
        Just because someone makes a decent amount of money does not mean that they have discretionary income to throw around.
        • Right, but either you can realistically afford a lawyer or you can't. If paying a lawyer means you won't have enough money for food, I'd say that qualifies as "can't". If there's no specific income requirement, I would assume that it's up to the judge on whether or not you qualify for court-appointed pro bono counsel (I also assume that if you yourself can convince a lawyer to defend you for free, the court has no say in the matter).
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Right, but either you can realistically afford a lawyer or you can't. If paying a lawyer means you won't have enough money for food, I'd say that qualifies as "can't". If there's no specific income requirement, I would assume that it's up to the judge on whether or not you qualify for court-appointed pro bono counsel (I also assume that if you yourself can convince a lawyer to defend you for free, the court has no say in the matter).

            Plus these cases are more expensive than they need to be because of the RIAA tactics. They commence cases without proper evidence; they press cases even against people they know to be innocent; they do not withdraw cases until after the defendant has incurred excessive attorneys fees; they stonewall discovery, forcing unnecessary motion practice; they refuse to compromise on anything; they try to keep everything confidential, so it will not be available to lawyers in other cases.

        • Re:Excellent news (Score:4, Insightful)

          by NewYorkCountryLawyer (912032) * <ray.beckermanlegal@com> on Friday July 17, 2009 @07:11PM (#28736757) Homepage Journal

          Someone who makes a decent middle-class salary may not have the means to add legal counsel to the list of bills. Just because someone makes a decent amount of money does not mean that they have discretionary income to throw around.

          Almost nobody can afford to expend hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees, which is what the RIAA makes sure a contested case will cost.

  • Idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by immakiku (777365) on Friday July 17, 2009 @04:22PM (#28735207)

    What if we created a union of RIAA suit defendants? So we'd all pre-emptively buy in to a reasonable number - say enough money to go to court against RIAA if they sued 5% of everyone in the union. So say there's 1000 members, they'd contribute enough to the pool so that if 50 of the members get sued, they should have enough resources to go to court. Every time a case is lost against the RIAA the defendant will have to reimburse the pool.

    I think this would level the playing field too. The idea is that everyone who is sued and is in this union is able to defend, instead of succumbing to debt. And the pool is only losing money proportional to how much the RIAA is losing. And if the RIAA legitimately have a case, the pool doesn't get diminished.

    • You seriously think 1000 people could match the funding of the RIAA dollar for dollar?

    • But how exactly would you set the limit of how much someone could pull out of the fund to defend themselves? There has to be a limit, since you're basically setting up a collective credit line. Maybe Defendant #1 can pay back $100k in 5 years, but Defendant #2 can only pay back $10k over 5 years, but #2 claims that he can pay more....what are you going to do? Audit all the people that join the pool? After all, if you let the wrong guy in and he loses his case, maybe he won't be able to reimburse the fund.
      • by immakiku (777365)

        That's a good point. And I don't have a solution to that. I imagine it'd be possible to get a big enough pool going that this shouldn't be a big problem.

        In the end, I don't think this is anything sustainable. I believe it is more like a weapon against the RIAA in a war of attrition. The purpose of the war, of course, is to get them to stop shotgunning cases based on the idea that defendants can only afford to settle.

      • Ask the guys that run the "Comic book legal defense fund"
    • by AP31R0N (723649)

      i like the idea. Almost like insurance. Making it work would be tricky. Seems a bit like hiring an army to protect us from the mafia. Paying a shark to protect us from the other sharks.

      i'd rather see a class action suit to shut down RIAA or reimburse their victims for abusing our legal system.

    • Re:Idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DMUTPeregrine (612791) on Friday July 17, 2009 @05:14PM (#28735653) Journal
      You have just invented insurance. Congratulations.
      • Re:Idea (Score:4, Funny)

        by michaelhood (667393) on Friday July 17, 2009 @05:42PM (#28735929)

        For some reason this reminded me of the dialogs (and the dialogue) that comes up when you discover something in the old Civilization games. I even heard it in the voice of that narrator.

        • by bughunter (10093)
          Oh great. You had to do it. You had to mention $nameofgamethatshallnotbementioned. Now I'm not going to be able to think of anything but $nameofgamethatshallnotbementioned, until I go on a sleepless 72-hour $nameofgamethatshallnotbementioned binge and get it out of my system. Thanks for ruining my weekend, you insensitive clod.
          • by MooUK (905450)

            Ruining? Sounds like a much better weekend than some alternatives, like lawnmowing, watching football, and decorating...

    • It's a nice idea, but it would never work. You would have to find enough people to buy into it to make it sustainable, and I don't think you would find anywhere close to the number of necessary people. In the event of a successful defense, unless their is a counterclaim you are losing money. In the event of an unsuccessful defense, considering what the judgments handed down have been, the defendant ain't going to be able to reimburse anyone in any timely fashion.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MaskedSlacker (911878)

      Congratulations, you invented legal insurance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_Expenses_Insurance [wikipedia.org] Want a cookie?

    • by c (8461)

      > What if we created a union of RIAA suit defendants?

      Because it would probably be cheaper to just buy music?

      c.

    • Could give way to an interesting class action [counter-] suit of sorts. IANAL

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by cliffski (65094)

      what if we actually paid for music?
      Just an idea

  • Original Motion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HaeMaker (221642) on Friday July 17, 2009 @04:33PM (#28735307) Homepage
    The original motion is quite well written [blogspot.com]. I especially like this part:

    "Additionally, because criminal behavior on the part of the Plaintiffs may have occurred, I require assistance for qualified counsel appointed by the Courts."

  • Fair's Fair (Score:5, Funny)

    by FrankDrebin (238464) on Friday July 17, 2009 @04:51PM (#28735461) Homepage
    Pro bono for the defense. Sonny Bono for the plaintiff.
  • Meh (Score:3, Funny)

    by AP31R0N (723649) on Friday July 17, 2009 @05:00PM (#28735529)

    U2 is overrated.

  • by Carra (1220410)
    I was wondering if U2 went bankrupt if Bono needs a to have his lawyer appointed by the court.
  • lawl (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    She said she'll take the case pro boner.

  • In my area, I have yet to see a pro bono lawyer or public defender put up a good case. I hope Brittany wins this one, but am not encouraged.
  • ...to, you know, "haunt" the RIAA a bit?

    Or is Freddy friends with other demons from "deeeep down under"? ^^

  • Have I got a case for you! :-)

  • You may be pro Bono and that is your choice. I, however, think he is a meddlesome turd.
    • You may be pro Bono and that is your choice. I, however, think he is a meddlesome turd.

      Well. He is dead you know. Something about skiing and a tree. Not that he was greatly missed.

  • I hate the greedy RIAA, it is about time someone turned the tables on them. They go after people who can barely pay the settlement nevertheless for counsel. If this starts happening around the country, the RIAA will have no easy targets and greater lose the power of fear.

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