Friday 1 May 2009

Santangelo case finally comes to a close

One of the longest-running and highest profile fileswapping lawsuits pursued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has reached its final conclusion – probably to the relief of the RIAA whose former high profile campaign against individual file swappers has led to criticism and ridicule from consumers, industry commentators and musicians alike.

The case is actually two cases, the first an action against Patricia Santangelo in 2005 after discovering that unlicensed music had been uploaded to a file-sharing network via her computer. Ms Santangelo defended herself in court and made it clear that she didn’t use the computer in question in any way. Attention then moved to Santangelo's two children, Michelle and Robert, and eventually it became clear that it was they who did the file sharing via the internet connection registered in their mother's name, although at one time a friend of the children was blamed. After asking the court to find Patricia Santangelo liable for the action’s of her then under-eighteen year old children (a plea rejected by the court) the case was dismissed.

The RIAA then began proceedings against Michelle and Robert. Michelle failed to respond to the lawsuit against her, and so a judge found in the RIAA's favour by default and ordered her to pay $30,000 in damages – although this was overturned on appeal. Robert Santangelo, meanwhile, defended the case but following a testimony by a friend of Robert's to the effect that Robert used Kazaa on an "almost daily" basis to access illegal sources of music, and a deposition by Michelle in which she admitted to accessing music via P2P, a settlement has finally been reached in the region of US$7,000.

The RIAA have now brought to an end their actions against individual file swappers although a number of cases remain in the pipeline, including the case against postgraduate student Joel Tennenbaum who is being defended by a team of Harvard law students and their professor Charles Nesson - here the RIAA had to appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals to prevent the preliminary hearings in the trial being webcast live (something the trial judge, Judge Nancy Gertner, was minded to allow). In the new world of the internet this blogger feels that, whilst he doesn’t quite know what to do to protect copyrights in the future, this and other high profile cases brought by the RIAA mean that he certainly knows what not to do.


1 comment:

Neil Wilkof said...


Thanks for your thoughtful comment. My instincts were framed 40 years ago with a huge dose of Dewey and pragmatism. I recognize that Dewey has never resonated very well on the eastern side of the Atlantic pond, but I would argue that at the least Dewey recognized one of the bedrock principles for philosophical action, namely that a problem is something that yields a solution. Without a solution, there is no problem. With respect to the RIAA and the issue of fileswapping and the last sentence of your post, my question is: "Okay, so please tell us what is the problem"? I must confess I cannot find a good formulation. Do you have any thoughts?