Downloading music is second nature to Internet-savvy kids, but that after-school activity could get parents in legal trouble.
That is the case for Patricia Santangelo. The mother of five had never even seen music downloading software when she was slapped with a lawsuit for allegedly pirating music through file sharing.
She is fighting back. Santangelo and former attorney Ray Beckerman spoke with The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith about the ordeal.
Santangelo was described by a Federal judge as an Internet illiterate, but was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America, RIAA, for illegally downloading music.
How did she find out she was an alleged Internet pirate?
"I received notice from the Internet provider that they had been subpoenaed for my name and address," she said. "And I didn't have that much information at that time."
Santangelo says she keeps a very close eye on her children's Internet activities. She says she has never downloaded music and wouldn't even know how to. She thinks one of her kid's friends may have been downloading music from her home computer.
"I know nothing about them downloading music or trading files," she said.
As best as she could retrace, she said none of her family members had actually done this activity.
The recording industry wants her to settle and pay $7,500. Santangelo is fighting the charge and believes the RIAA should be held responsible.
"The program that was used — through what I got sued for — the peer-to-peer network, it's a file-sharing program," she said. "Somehow, some way, if it was on my IP address, it was a child that downloaded that program. I find that wrong. I just don't think that they should have access to something like that without parental permission and I don't feel like I should be held responsible."
Santangelo hired attorney Ray Beckerman to represent her. He thought the case would be dismissed because he felt there were no grounds for copyright infringement. When it wasn't dismissed, the fees to continue to keep Beckerman on retainer became too expensive. As of December, the mother of five is representing herself. She has spent $24,000 on the case so far.
What has Beckerman done to try to help defend her?
"Well, the complaint is a boilerplate complaint," he said. "They've sued 17,000 people and they don't know that any of these people ever did any downloading or uploading or anything illegal. And so we made a motion to dismiss the complaint. It's as if you were being sued for negligence and they just said that we've been damaged by your negligence but didn't say when, how, why."
Beckerman said they used "exactly the same complaint against everybody that they sued."
Santangelo is not the only person sued who is fighting the allegations.
"There are thousands of people," Beckerman said. "In Oregon, there's a lady, a 41-year-old single mother, who lives on Social Security disability. She had a 7-year-old. Neither of them did any file sharing. They told these people before the lawsuit 'Take our hard drive and examine it. We didn't do it.' They sued them anyway."
Santangelo is taking a stand. She says she will keep up her fight for "as long as it takes."
"I'd like to try. There are children being sued," she said. "There's 12-year-olds being sued and 14-year-olds being sued for doing something they don't understand."
Kerry Sherman is president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which filed the lawsuit.
Do blanket lawsuits like this one seem fair? Is it the right way to go after the problem of illegal file sharing?
"Well, it's a way that is actually proven very effective," he said. "I understand Ms. Santangelo looks at this from her unique perspective as a defendant. She has to understand that there are tens of thousands of other people who are engaging in this activity, and they are decimating the music industry collectively. Half the songwriters in Nashville don't have their jobs from just five years ago. Their royalties are down. Artists can't get signed to label rosters anymore."
What about the argument of going after the supplier as opposed to the user, especially if the user might be a 7-year-old child?
"All that we know when we bring a lawsuit is the address of the computer. And, later on, we find out who owns that computer and who may have engaged in the behavior," Sherman said. "All that we know about Mrs. Santangelo's computer is that it was the source of a great deal of illegal music. She's saying that she didn't do it, but she isn't telling us who did. We need to find that out in order to be fair and reasonable and find the appropriate defendant."
"Is illegal downloading of music still an ongoing problem?" Smith asked. "I thought a lot of these sites were shut down and most people were using, are you know, systems where you actually pay your money and subscribe and pull it down off the Internet."
"The good news is — and it's largely because of this enforcement campaign — that users of peer-to-peer services have gotten the message that it's illegal and a lot of them have migrated over to iTunes, Rhapsody, the new Napster and Wal-Mart," Sherman said. "There's an array online. These lawsuits are designed to tell people, educate them that this activity is illegal, you can be identified and there are consequences when caught."