Innocent Target of File-Sharing Lawsuit Racked Up Legal Fees Fighting Baseless Charges
Seattle - The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) should pay for a single mom's two-year legal ordeal fighting a baseless file-sharing lawsuit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told Washington state court in an amicus brief filed Thursday.
The nightmare began for Dawnell Leadbetter in January of 2005, when she received a letter from the RIAA that accused her of illegally downloading copyrighted music and claiming she owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Leadbetter contacted the RIAA to deny the baseless claims, and refused to pay any settlement monies. In response, the RIAA sued Leadbetter, and Leadbetter hired an attorney to fight the charges. After months of legal wrangling, the RIAA finally dropped the case in December of 2006. But in the meantime, Leadbetter had incurred significant attorney's fees.
"Ms. Leadbetter isn't the only innocent Internet user that has been ensnared by the RIAA's litigation dragnet. But she is one of the few who have fought back, resisting RIAA pressure to pay settlement monies for something she did not do," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "The RIAA's settlement offers are usually less that what it would cost to defend yourself, so it's a big commitment to hire a lawyer to clear your name. Reimbursing Ms. Leadbetter's attorney's fees could encourage other innocent lawsuit targets to stand up for themselves."
Since 2003, the RIAA has sued over 20,000 people for allegedly sharing music over the Internet. The industry uses questionable investigative methods tactics to find its targets, and then often employs erroneous legal theories in its quest for settlement monies. In Ms. Leadbetter's case, the suit against her included accusations of "secondary liability" -- putting her on the hook for anything that happened on her Internet account, whether she knew about it or not.
"The RIAA knows that this legal theory is wrong. But if innocent victims are too scared to hire an attorney and fight back, the public could suffer under the misconception that these bogus theories are legitimate," Schultz said. "Awarding attorney's fees to Ms. Leadbetter helps protect everyone's rights under copyright law."
The amicus brief was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle in conjunction with attorney Derek Newman of Newman & Newman LLP.
For the full amicus brief:
For more on the RIAA lawsuit campaign:
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation