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April 24, 2007

Judge Denies Motion to Reconsider in RIAA Fees Case

The RIAA sued Debbie Foster for copyright infringement in 2006 for illegal downloading of music on her Internet account.  The screen name used was fflygirl 11 and Foster maintained that her daughter and estranged husband had access to the account and it might have been them.  The RIAA said that it didn't matter, it was her account and they were going to hold her liable.  The cause was amended after some discovery to add her adult daughter, Amanda, to the case.  Debbie, however, filed a counterclaim for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement. 

The plaintiffs won a default judgment against Amanda for non-appearance and insisted in proceeding against Debbie.  She refused to give in and the RIAA decided it was prudent to dismiss the claim rather than test their secondary copyright infringement claim.  They did so with prejudice, but Debbie would not go away.  The Court ultimately dismissed her counterclaim, but she demanded attorney fees as the prevailing parties.  That's when it got interesting.

The Court examined the claims of secondary copyright infringement and noted that there were no facts alleged to support the claim.  The RIAA came up with several cases where attorney fees were not granted.  The judge, however, did not think them relevant and awarded fees.  Some of the rationale was based on the the tactic of presenting a weak or unreasonable claim hoping to pressure the defendant into settling. 

The judge just denied a motion to reconsider the award, ultimately sending this case to appeal on that issue.  Or not.  That's the risk the RIAA has to take having lost at trial.  An appellate court ruling in favor of Foster might cause the need to investigate cases better and to take more care in alleging infringement.

The organization has been accused of using bullying tactics to establish a favorable legal climate for its actions.  Their tactics got so low that they thought themselves gracious for allowing extra time for discovery from the children of the deceased defendant-parent.  They explained at the time the grieving children might not be to give suitable answers for depositions because of their emotional state.  They ultimately dismissed that case after the bad publicity.

That is the litigation style, though, of the RIAA.  Club the defendant as hard as can be before they notice that some of the claims are bogus.  That's where attorney fees get ugly.  Imagine the RIAA having to pay litigation costs for every claim they decide to pull when they think they will lose. 

The original case is available on Westlaw, though it is unreported.  The name is Capitol v. Foster, No. Civ. 04-1569-W (W.D. Okla, Feb. 6, 2007), 2007 WL 1028532.  The motion to deny the reconsideration is not available on the web yet, though it's likely available in PACER.  There is a story in Ars Technica that quotes from the order. 

April 24, 2007 | Permalink

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