The Recording Industry Association of America has drawn plenty of fire from the thousands of consumers it has sued for illegally downloading music. But on Thursday, a record label threw its hat in the ring, speaking out strongly against the RIAA's actions and offering to pay the legal fees and fines for one family that has been sued.
Nettwerk Music Group, the Canadian record label and artist-management company that is home to Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies and Sum 41, is taking on the RIAA on behalf of Elisa Greubel, a 15-year-old Texan whose father was sued by the recording industry trade group in August 2005 for owning a computer that allegedly shared more than 600 music files.
Among the nine songs the RIAA is focusing on in the suit, according to Nettwerk, is management client Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi." The RIAA is demanding Greubel's family pay $9,000 to settle the suit, or half that amount if the family signs off on the conditions built into a standard settlement agreement (see "RIAA Sues 784 For File-Sharing, Gives Props To Supreme Court Ruling" and "Single Mother Of Five Takes On RIAA In Downloading Case").
Nettwerk Music Group CEO Terry McBride said in a statement that legal action is not the answer. "Suing music fans is not the solution, it's the problem."
The company got involved after Greubel sent an e-mail to another one of its artists, self-described "post-punk laptop rapper" MC Lars, who has a track on his upcoming album called "Download This Song."
The track, from The Graduate (which comes out March 22), finds Lars castigating the music industry for suing fans and features Jaret Reddick of Bowling for Soup singing the refrain, "Hey mister record man, the joke's on you/ Running your label like it was 1992/ Hey mister record man, your system can't compete/ It's the new artist model, file transfer complete."
According to Nettwerk, Greubel heard the song and wrote an e-mail to Lars' Web site in which she said, "My family is one of many seemingly randomly chosen families to be sued by the RIAA. No fun. You can't fight them, trying could possibly cost us millions. The line, 'They sue little kids downloading hit songs' basically sums a lot of the whole thing up. I'm not saying it is right to download but the whole lawsuit business is a tad bit outrageous."
A label representative denied that its actions are at all intended to promote MC Lars' album.
Chicago attorney Charles Lee Mudd Jr. has defended more than 100 consumers who have been sued by the RIAA. He said he took on the Greubel case — which names Elisa's dad, David — prior to Nettwerk's involvement because of his philosophical and legal opposition to the way the RIAA is pursuing users through litigation.
"I believe the RIAA's approach is wrong and there are a number of better alternatives out there," Mudd said. "I think they're misusing the copyright laws, which were designed to be used more as a shield than a sword. They're going after families that, in a lot of cases, don't know that what they or their children are doing is illegal." Unfortunately for the Greubels, Mudd said that "most" of his clients have been compelled to settle with the RIAA because the cost of fighting the charges was insurmountable.
"Stealing another person's property is theft, it's against the law and breaking the law must carry consequences or no one will think twice," said RIAA spokesperson Jonathan Lamy. "Theft undermines the ability of the music companies to invest in the new bands of tomorrow and deprives labels, songwriters and musicians of their hard-earned royalties."
McBride said he decided to weigh in because the action involves his artists. "Litigation is not 'artist development,' " he said in the statement. "Litigation is a deterrent to creativity and passion and it is hurting the business I love. The current actions of the RIAA are not in my artists' best interests." Nettwerk has offered to pay all legal fees and any fines for the family in the event that they lose the suit and Mudd said he has reduced his fees in the case.
David Greubel, who lives with his family in Arlington, Texas, and found out about the suit last year when he read his name in a local newspaper, said his family owes a huge thank you to Nettwerk for helping him fight the suit.
"The more I looked into it, the more it seemed like a classic [case] of David and Goliath," Greubel said. "The RIAA had the resources to bring these suits against people who didn't have the resources to fight them." Greubel would not discuss the specifics of the case, but said he hopes the attention his plight is receiving will result in more debate about the RIAA's actions and lead the organization to seek alternatives to the lawsuits.
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