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Is Ignoring RIAA Lawsuit Cheaper Than Going To Trial?

from the isn't-that-what-they-count-on? dept

A bunch of folks have been sending in Nate Anderson's article about how ignoring an RIAA lawsuit may be "cheaper" than going to trial. It makes for a nice storyline, but it's really not entirely accurate. It's based on the fact that Judge Gertner, who was the judge in the Joel Tenenbaum trial, just handed out some default judgments against people who never bothered to respond at all to an RIAA lawsuit over file sharing. In each case, Gertner chose the statutory minimum of $750 per song, much less than Jammie Thomas got in her two trials and Joel Tenenbaum received in his trial.

But, of course, these aren't apples-to-apples comparisons (not to mention that we're dealing with a classic "small sample size" problem). Specifically, the three trials involved a combination of poorly argued defenses that made the defendants look worse, combined with defendants themselves who both admitted to lying. And, add to that the fact that they're jury trials, where juries tend to give out larger awards than a judge does, and it's really not a huge surprise. If you had defendants who actually had a real case, combined with a defense team that actually argued the specific points, things might have been different. But, it looks like, with both Thomas and Tenenbaum, the goal was to create a bigger case that can get attention at higher levels to take on certain aspects of copyright law itself.

And, of course, as an addendum on the article notes, it's still probably cheaper to settle up in the first place, but that's exactly how the RIAA intends things to be. It's the same principle on which an extortion scam works: it's cheaper to pay up than to fight it. But, that doesn't mean it's right to just shut up and pay -- especially if the accused is innocent. As much as the RIAA must love Anderson's article, because it encourages people not to fight its lawsuits, the reality is a lot more complicated.
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Filed Under: lawsuits, trial
Companies: riaa

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  1. identicon
    Nick Coghlan, 28 Sep 2009 @ 8:20pm

    Not really disagreeing with Ars

    I don't think you're really disagreeing the Ars article here. Anderson was looking at it from a purely monetary point of view and noting that a default judgment from a judge in one of these cases is likely to be for the minimum $750 a song, whereas juries may award significantly more if they decide they don't like you.

    He didn't go into the issues of whether or not it is right or just that economic incentives are stacked so heavily in favour of giving in to the RIAA's demands. Anderson was merely pointing out that going to trial when you're guilty of exactly what you're being accused of and you have other options is probably a bad idea. (And, let's face it, that is probably the case for most of the RIAA's accusations - the times when the RIAA are blatantly wrong get noticed because they're the exception, not the rule. Hell, if the MPAA wanted to get into a similar game they could just sue anybody that uses a lot of bandwidth in offpeak hours and be right more often than not - people downloading movies are going to be far more common than shift workers watching legally downloaded HDTV).

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