Judge tosses RIAA suit

Plaintiff's attorneys objected to proposal order

An angry federal judge threw out an illegal music downloading lawsuit against a 14-year-old girl after recording industry plaintiffs ignored a court order.

Since defendant Brittany Chan is a minor, the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan ordered plaintiffs, represented by the Recording Industry Assn. of America, to submit a proposal for appointment and payment of a guardian ad litem on the girl’s behalf. Instead, attorneys for Priority Records, Elektra Entertainment, Motown Records, Warner Bros. Records, Sony Music, UMG Recordings and Arista Records objected to the order.

Calling their failure to comply “inexplicable,” Judge Lawrence Zatkoff quietly dismissed the case in late March.

Plaintiffs had originally asked the court to have local county officials handle appointment and payment of a guardian. Zatkoff denied the request, quoting officials as saying it was “not feasible,” and then ordered plaintiffs to submit a proposal for how they would handle the matter.

Plaintiffs responded with arguments about why they should not have to handle the matter. In his opinion, Zatkoff summarized their points and in places added his thoughts about them:

“Plaintiffs argue: They have already been damaged as a result of defendant’s conduct (the court notes, however, that such conduct is alleged and not proven); there is no reason at this point to believe that defendant could not pay the fees herself, as neither defendant nor her parents have indicated that she lacks the resources to pay for the guardian ad litem; in some states, parents that are financially able are required to reimburse the court for the cost of guardian ad litem services (interestingly, the only cases cited are those involving child custody or visitation cases where no third party is involved).”

Zatkoff refused to address the merits of plaintiffs’ arguments, faulting them as a violation of procedure and, apparently, tact.

“What I find amazing is that the RIAA’s lawyers had the temerity to simply ignore an order of a federal judge,” said Ray Beckerman, a Manhattan attorney who has represented other defendants in illegal downloading cases. “The arrogance of the RIAA and its henchmen knows no bounds,” he declared.

“This is an unusual decision based on a procedural anomaly,” an RIAA spokesman said. “It has nothing to do with the merits of the case or the substance of copyright law. The basic fact remains: Regardless of age, if you violate the law and steal from record companies, musicians, songwriters and everyone else involved in making music, you can be held accountable.”