It's Hard Out There For A Pirate:
The RIAA Is In Your Extended Network
I have been told that writing stories about the
RIAA has become redundant. I suppose it's like giving Clear Channel shit and
expecting people to care anymore. We all know it's a long-established fact that
the RIAA is looking to protect the profit margins of major recording companies,
and they'll go at great lengths to do so, including suing the parents of minors,
grandmothers, people without computers and those who are deceased. But how 'bout
suggesting that a student drop out of college in order to pay a settlement?
According to Cassi Hunt, a 20-year-old student at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT), that's exactly what happened.
"Are. You. Shitting. Me." (Her words, not mine.)
This is among the commentary that you'll find on the shrewdly titled
Screwpirates.com, a website set up by Hunt to fundraise for her cause as
well as inform fellow students and visitors about her first-hand experience with
So, how did we get here, you ask? Well, Hunt is pretty much your average college
student, balancing classes alongside part-time jobs and bouts with insomnia.
Like thousands of other students who reside on a college campus, Hunt once had
access to a high-speed campus network p2p, i2hub (a service which has since been
shut down due to the pressure of the RIAA and the MPAA).
"Irony of ironies, I rarely download music," Hunt told TMT. She was subpoenaed
for allegedly sharing 272 songs, small cookies for anyone who lived through the
Napster days. While she rarely downloaded music, Hunt often plugged into i2hub
for access to movies and television shows. "Let's just say I don't get Comedy
Hunt first had an inkling of some trouble a'brewin'
last fall, but her fears ultimately became reality with a mailing around the
Christmas holiday from her school, due to the fact that in these "John Doe"
lawsuits, the Internet Service Provider (ISP) is contacted first. Finally in
January she received a letter from a Colorado-based law firm informing her that
she was indeed named in a suit for copyright infringement. Dismayed, Hunt dialed
up an RIAA representative where she was connected to the "settlement negotiation
hotline." Apparently, there is very little negotiation involved on the part of
the accused. If the case had gone to trial, Hunt could have been liable for up
to $750 per song. The cost of a court case alone makes this essentially a no-win
situation for any alleged pirate. However, the RIAA was willing to "settle" for
$3,750, common practice for cases such as this. Frustrated, Hunt decided to
On her second attempt calling the "settlement negotiation hotline," Hunt was
reunited with the same woman she had spoken to previously. In her writings, Hunt
affectionately referred to her as "Bowie." Not in honor of David, but rather
because bowie means "yellow-haired," which she was "pretty sure was the case."
Stereotypes aside, Hunt contacted "Bowie" with the goal of negotiating the
$3,750 offer. That was simply not to be. The RIAA usually requests that they
receive payment of said total within 15 days, but they also offer a six-month
payment plan. Besides battling in court, those were the only options. When Hunt
inquired if there were any other conceivable alternatives, she was told there
are circumstances in which payments could be altered, such as swashbucklers with
special medical conditions. According to "Bowie," Hunt did not qualify for such
a special circumstance. She didn't leave her new friend hanging, though. Hunt
was left with some wise, albeit cold advice:
"In fact, the RIAA has been known to suggest that students drop out of college
or go to community college in order to be able to afford settlements."
This alleged quote has spearheaded the firestorm surrounding the case and made
the bad PR for the RIAA even worse. Hunt has since penned a series of widely
read articles for MIT's publication The Tech. Additionally, her story was
picked up by Rolling Stone, MTV, Digg, Slashdot, and Fark, among other
notable outlets. What makes this situation remarkable is not the case itself,
which is a dime a dozen (some 18,000 people have been named in file-sharing
suits since 2003), but rather Hunt's detailed account of her experience — a
rarity in cases like this. The same high-speed technology that got her in this
mess has enabled her to wield a sword of her own. Now the RIAA is the one
playing damage control.
"It's not our position to tell individuals how to pay for a settlement," an RIAA
representative told Digital Music News. "It is our role to enforce our
rights under the laws."
Hunt has since agreed to the six-month settlement plan offered by "Bowie." She's
raised over $500 dollars on her website through selling merch, holding raffles,
and accepting donations. She's also received an outpouring of support from
independent labels. In reality, Hunt can consider herself lucky. Some are not as
fortunate as her. You may recall the case of two bloggers who were arrested for
distributing some pre-release tracks of a Ryan Adams record, Jacksonville
City Nights. If the two men are convicted on counts of conspiracy and
pre-release distribution, they could face substantial jail time. Their offense
was particularly risky, because it violates a new provision of the Family
Entertainment and Copyright Act (FECA). Publishing music or movies before their
public release is now a federal crime.
"We commend Congress for giving prosecutors the tools they need to achieve swift
and successful enforcement of this devastating form of piracy," RIAA Chairman
and CEO Mitch Bainwol said in a statement available at RIAA.org. "The message
here is clear: Significant crimes bring significant consequences."
While it's likely that some sort of plea agreement will be reached in the Adams'
case, it's safe to say that these gentlemen are being used as an example to
scare off bloggers who aren't in the good graces of the RIAA and major labels.
Sure, major labels will give out free songs, but only in an environment they can
"I agree that those who commit copyright infringement, in any form, should be
punished," adds Hunt. "But let the punishment fit the crime. Sharing a song is
on the order of a traffic violation, not theft! As it stands, the law allows the
RIAA to become the judge."
Hunt's concerns certainly are not falling on deaf ears. On one hand, you have
music bloggers who are admittedly given pre-release music by record labels on a
regular basis. Then you have file-sharers on p2p networks. So it's okay to
download pre-release songs from "selected bloggers," but it's illegal to share
these same songs via a p2p service? You can't have it both ways, RIAA. Until
this hypocrisy is addressed, music fans will continue to be prosecuted and
scare tactics. Very often, these folks are sued with little in the way of
conclusive evidence or any idea what they are being subpoenaed for. It's been
suggested that even having a shared folder puts you at risk for a lawsuit. If
you can stand for that, fine. Maybe you'll never get caught. But what if you do?
Do you have $3,750 lying around? If so, I know someone that needs it.
* How can you be active on the digital front? Check out the
Foundation (EFF), which currently has a number of efforts fighting for the
rights of file-sharers. Also, like most causes, feel free to write your
Congressman and tell them what you think about the copyright laws. *