RIAA Accused Of Illegal Investigations

A Texas woman asks a court to bar the music companies from using unlicensed firms when they build their legal cases against illegal file sharing.

Another target of a music file-sharing lawsuit is fighting back, claiming in a countersuit that record companies' investigatory tactics were illegal.

Texas resident Rhonda Crain claims that Sony BMG Music Entertainment and others in the Recording Industry Association of America lawsuit illegally employed unlicensed investigators and were aware that they were disregarding the laws of her state. She filed an amended counterclaim Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division.

Court documents claim that the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit "agreed between themselves and understood that unlicensed and unlawful investigations would take place in order to provide evidence for this lawsuit, as well as thousands of others as part of a mass litigation campaign. On information and belief, the private investigations company hired by plaintiffs engaged in one or more overt acts of unlawful private investigation. Such actions constitute civil conspiracy under Texas common law." The counterclaim states that the companies promoted or incited illegal investigations of Texas residents.

Crain is claiming emotional distress and that she has been forced to spend resources and time defending the "ill-conceived" lawsuit. She has requested that the court bar the music companies from using unlicensed firms during the discovery process against her and in all other Texas lawsuits. She is also seeking "all other relief as the court may deem equitable and proper including an award of damages." Finally, she is asking the court to throw out the case.

Crain claimed earlier that she did not infringe on copyright-protected music. Her lawyer, John Stoneham, has argued that the plaintiffs failed to show that they own or license the recordings that Crain allegedly infringed upon, did not identify the recordings in question, and failed to indicate where and when the alleged infringement took place.

Stoneham said nobody ever contacted Crain or tried to stop the alleged infringement before taking the matter to court and the only evidence produced in the case was a screenshot showing a peer-to-peer file-sharing program and Crain's status as an account holder with an Internet service provider.

The screenshots point a finger at file-sharing network, KaZaA, which has already reached a settlement with the record companies, he said. That should cover all copyright infringement damages that occurred on the network, including any alleged involvement on Crain's behalf, Stoneham argued. He said the $115 million covers any and all injuries resulting from file-sharing on the network, and the plaintiffs are barred for recovering damages twice for the same alleged infringements. Stoneham also argued that the exhibits in the case fail to link the screenshots with an IP address or, in any other way, link specific individuals with the alleged infringement.

"Plaintiff's actions amount to extortion," Stoneham said in court documents. "Plaintiffs did not seek to mitigate their damages, if any; instead they filed their Complaint which was served upon Defendant with a cover letter offering to enter into settlement negotiations."

The document explains that Crain contacted the companies' lawyers and learned she could settle the case for $4,500, which Stoneham called "grossly disproportionate to the amount claimed in the settlement letter."

Crain is seeking reimbursement for the cost of defending a lawsuit that Stoneham called frivolous.

A lawyer for the defendants referred calls to the Recording Industry Association of America. Representatives there could not be reached immediately for comment.

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