RIAA Shakedowns Similar To Big Retailers Shaking Down Suspected Shoplifters

from the not-so-different dept

We've talked in the past about how both DirecTV and the RIAA have used a borderline legal version of a shakedown to get people to pay them money, without them having a chance to defend themselves. The way the process works is simple. They come up with a mere slip of evidence that the person might be guilty, and then send them threatening letters offering not to sue if they merely pay up first. With DirecTV, the company used names of people who had bought smart card writing devices, even though such devices have perfectly legitimate uses beyond pirating satellite TV signals. With the RIAA, obviously, it was through a list of (often questionable) IP addresses. By using this method, many people pay rather than face a lawsuit -- even if they're innocent. They recognize that the cost of a lawsuit is much worse than just paying the settlement charge. In the organized crime world, this is generally known as a shakedown, or if you prefer, extortion. Yet, for some reason, it's legal when these businesses do it.

And, it turns out, the RIAA and DirecTV are not alone in doing so. Perhaps they even learned the practice by watching how big retailers approach shoplifters. Reader Josh sent in a Wall Street Journal article showing how many large retail chain stores are using a very similar process against suspected shoplifters. In the most egregious case, Home Depot detained a guy it thought was stealing drill bits, but dropped the effort after he showed them a receipt. A few weeks later, though, he received a letter demanding $3,000, which was later raised to $6,000. Admittedly, the amount is quite high there as the law firm that handled the case later admitted to a typo in entering the amount -- but the process seems quite similar to the RIAA/DirecTV process. It doesn't matter if the person is guilty or innocent. You just ask them to pay up or threaten them with a lawsuit. The retailers all insist this is a necessary process since shoplifting costs them so much -- but it's hard to see how forcing people to pay up without a chance to defend themselves is ever right, no matter how much shoplifting costs these retailers.

Filed Under: extortion, retailers, shakedowns


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2008 @ 11:47am

    Re: Re: Just pretend to steal things, its a lot mo

    I have worked loss prevention for several years. The way it works, is that you have to visually see the person place the items in their pocket, bag, etc. Then you have to maintain line of sight on them until they cross the threshold of the store. At that point, the person has crossed the point of no return. They can then be apprehended and taken to the office for questioning and holding until the police arrive (YES, cuffs are allowed).

    If at any time you lose line of sight on that person (mind you several people can be watching them and the chain of custody can change to them as long as you are in communication with them and you both have LOS on that individual before you lose sight.) then you cannot apprehend them without actually seeing the items in their possession.

    Some people place things in their own bags with the intention of paying for them (granted it is not in good taste). You have to give them the chance to pay before apprehending them. Once they cross the point of no return, then they have shoplifted by the legal definition.

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