Good news today from the great state of Oklahoma. Debbie Foster, a single mom who was improperly sued by the RIAA back in 2004 for file sharing, has won back her attorneys' fees. The decision today is one of the first in the country to award attorneys fees to a defendant in an RIAA case over music sharing on the Internet.
Last year, Judge Lee R. West dismissed the case against her with prejudice after it became clear that Ms. Foster was simply the Internet access account holder in her home and had no knowledge or experience with file sharing software. EFF, Public Citizen, the ACLU, and the American Association of Law Libraries filed an amicus brief in the case, supporting Ms. Foster's motion for fees.
In his ruling, Judge West found that the RIAA had asserted an untested and marginal theory that veered toward "frivolous and unreasonable" by suing Foster for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement when the only evidence against her was her name on the household Internet account. Much like the judge in Elektra v. Santangelo, West expressed skepticism that "an Internet-illiterate parent, who does not know Kazaa from a kazoo" could be held liable for children in her home downloading music illegally unless the parent had knowledge of the conduct or had giver her permission to do so. West also hinted that the RIAA might have pursued the secondary liability claims "to press Ms. Foster into settlement after they ceased to believe she was a direct or 'primary' infringer."
Finding that in the face of these claims, "her only alternative to litigating ... was to capitulate to a settlement for a violation she insists she did not commit" and that "[s]uch capitulation would not advance the aims of the Copyright Act," the Court awarded Ms. Foster her attorneys fees and costs.
We applaud Judge West for standing up to the RIAA and recognizing the importance of helping people like Debbie Foster push back against their overzealous litigation campaign.