Retired schoolteacher falsely accused of downloading Snoop Dogg

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Sep 25 06:35:56 MDT 2003


NY Times, Sept. 25, 2003
She Says She's No Music Pirate. No Snoop Fan, Either.
By JOHN SCHWARTZ

Sarah Ward was stunned when the record industry sued her for being a
music pirate.

Mrs. Ward, a 66-year-old sculptor and retired schoolteacher, received
notice on Sept. 11 from the Recording Industry Association of America
that she was being accused of engaging in millions of dollars worth of
copyright infringement, downloading thousands of songs and sharing them
with the world through a popular file-sharing program called KaZaA.

Mrs. Ward was deeply confused by the accusations, which have disrupted
her gentle life in the suburbs of Boston. She does not trade music, she
says, does not have any younger music-loving relatives living with her,
and does not use her computer for much more than sending e-mail and
checking the tides. Even then, her husband does the typing.

"I'm a very much dyslexic person who has not actually engaged using the
computer as a tool yet," she explained in her first interview about the
case.

On Friday, the industry group dropped its suit against Mrs. Ward, but
reserved the right to sue again. An industry spokeswoman denied that any
mistake had been made.

"We have chosen to give her the benefit of the doubt and are continuing
to look into the facts," said Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for the music
industry association. She also denied that there were serious disputes
about the facts of any other suits. "This is the only case of its kind,"
Ms. Weiss said.

But those opposed to the recording industry's legal tactics say that the
case suggests that the methods used to track down music pirates are
flawed. They argue that Mrs. Ward is probably not the only mistaken case
in the recording industry dragnet.

Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an
advocacy group concerned with civil liberties in the digital age, said
that her organization was talking with dozens of people who say they
have been sued but do not trade files.

In a number of the 261 lawsuits the industry has filed so far, members
of the household other than the named defendant might have had access to
the machines, she said. But some of those being sued, she added, are
contending that their cases are purely ones of mistaken identity.

That is exactly what Mrs. Ward says happened to her. Not only does
nobody else use her computer in more than a passing way, the computer,
an Apple Macintosh, is not even capable of running the KaZaA
file-swapping program. And though the lawsuit against her said that she
was heavily into the works of hip-hop artists like Snoop Dogg, Ms. Ward
says her musical tastes run to Celtic and folk.

Ms. Ward said that she was fortunate to have several lawyers in her
family, and a son-in-law, Dan Levy, who is knowledgeable about the
Internet and the file-trading wars. He put her in touch with the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is based in San Francisco.

"They picked the wrong little old lady to sue," Mr. Levy said. "This
case alone should put the record companies on notice that their method
of associating KaZaA user names with addresses is flawed."

An official of Mrs. Ward's Internet service provider, Comcast, said that
the company had investigated the case and that it gave the right name
associated with the Internet identifier, known as an I.P. number, that
the industry lawyers demanded. But like many service providers, Comcast
issues its I.P. numbers "dynamically," with the numbers shifting each
time a user goes online. Both Comcast and the recording industry group
say they can accurately trace the I.P. number back to a single user;
nonetheless, identifying a particular user can be tricky.

Although Ms. Ward's identity may have been mistaken, the strategy of
suing people of all ages and musical tastes is intentional, said Mike
Godwin, a lawyer with Public Knowledge, a policy group seeking a middle
ground in the piracy fight.

The idea, he said, is to make average people understand that they, too,
could be hit with a suit for sharing songs. "If they target `Tattoo
Guy,' who's out of a job but has access to an M.I.T. online account and
is downloading songs and selling bootleg CD's out of the trunk of his
car, nobody identifies with him," he said.

Ms. Weiss of the recording industry association said that the strategy
was, in fact, working as planned. "This is a campaign of deterrence,"
she said, "and we want to send a strong message that this activity is
illegal and there are consequences." Therefore, she said, "we are
casting a wide net."

Groups like Public Knowledge and another Washington policy group, the
Center for Democracy and Technology, agree with the industry claim that
it has a right to pursue copyright infringers and say that suing
individuals is a valid strategy so long as the most egregious violators
are made the target. But these groups say that the industry must use its
newly granted subpoena powers with care, and they suggest that both more
judicial oversight and better warnings for those being investigated are
needed.

Ms. Ward says she has been shaken by the accusation and threat of heavy
penalties, which left her unable to sleep. She says she worries about
people less equipped to fight. "We had emotional support and very
skilled resources to turn to," she said. "What happens to people who
don't have that in their life to clear their names or defend themselves?"

To Ms. Cohn, the case shows that the industry does not recognize the
effect that its tactics are having on average people. To corporations,
"litigation is just the cost of doing business," she said. "But it isn't
just the cost of doing business with the people who they've targeted here."

Though the possibility of a revived lawsuit worries her, Ms. Ward said
that the most troubling issue that remains for her is the absence of an
apology from the industry group.

"When we can't make human amends to things," she said, "then we don't
have a way forward."

--

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