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A major Canadian record company has taken the unusual step of hiring a defense lawyer for a man accused by the U.S. record industry of downloading hundreds of songs illegally.
The Nettwerk Music Group said it would pay for the defense of David Greubel, a father of four children who is the defendant in a complaint filed by the Record Industry Association of America in a U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas. Greubel is accused of having on the family computer 600 music files suspected of being illegally downloaded from file-sharing services. Among the files is the song "Sk8er Boi" by artist Avril Lavigne, who is a client of Nettwerk.
"Suing music fans is not the solution; it's the problem," Terry McBride, chief executive of Nettwork, said in a statement this week.
In defending the RIAA's action, spokesman Jonathan Lamy said Friday in an email, "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." Lamy said downloading music illegally deprived labels, songwriters and musicians of their "hard-earned royalties."
McBride, however, disagreed, saying litigation doesn't benefit artists.
“Litigation is not ‘artist development,’" McBride said. "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 hired Chicago-based Mudd Law Offices to represent Greubel. Attorney Charles Lee Mudd Jr. has represented individuals subpoenaed and sued by the RIAA since 2003. The record company said it would also pay any fines should the family lose the case. The RIAA is seeking a $9,000 stipulated judgment as a penalty, but would accept $4,500, if Greubel pays the amount within a specific period of time, Nettwerk said.
The record company became involved when Greubel's 15-year-old daughter Elisa contacted Nettwerk rap artist MC Lars, saying she could relate to his tune, "Download This Sing," because her family was being sued by the RIAA.
"You can't fight them, trying could possibly cost us millions," Elisa Greubel said in an email, according to Nettwerk. "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.”
Mudd declined Friday to discuss his legal strategy against the RIAA, until he files his response to the complaint, which is due Feb. 24. In general, however, Mudd said the RIAA has "misused" U.S. copyright law, and said the people he has represented against the industry trade group are average Joes who get caught in litigation for doing something they didn't realize was illegal.
"The people I represent are not the thieves that the RIAA has made them out to be," Mudd said. "They are consumers using consumer products and software -- average individuals like you and I who find themselves in a situation that they had no idea they would be in."
Mudd claimed that nearly all his clients would have stopped downloading music, if they had received a warning from the RIAA before it filed a lawsuit.
The current case is unusual in that Greubel, through the backing of Nettwerk, may have the money to fight the RIAA through the courts, Mudd said. Cases similar to Greubel's have seldom even gone to trial, with most defendants avoiding further litigation by agreeing to pay the RIAA.