Attorney Fees

$17M for Legal Fees Is Money Well Spent, RIAA Says

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The Recording Industry Association of America is defending more than $17 million spent on legal fees in 2008 after bloggers claimed the organization’s aggressive pursuit of damages for illegal downloading was yielding little legal in the way of legal recoveries.

Two blogs, Recording Industry vs The People and ITProPortal, had written that the RIAA managed to recover only $391,000 that year despite the large payout to lawyers.

But Jonathan Lamy, senior vice president for communications for the RIAA, says victories aren’t always measured in dollars and cents. Sometimes the organization obtains injunctions shutting down file-sharing websites, and sometimes recoveries go directly to record label plaintiffs, including the $115 million obtained in a 2006 settlement with the file-sharing network Kazaa.

Lamy says the blog accounts are based on a publicly available 2008 tax document that lists legal fees for a whole variety of legal efforts, including notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, legal advice on pending legislation, multiyear litigation concerning royalties, and litigation against file-sharing websites. He points out that litigation often spans multiple years, so that legal fees spent one year result in later victories.

“Attempting to draw some larger conclusion about the effectiveness of our anti-piracy efforts based just on that one line in our tax document is simply inaccurate and highly misleading,” Lamy tells the ABA Journal in an e-mail.

“Our anti-piracy efforts are primarily designed to foster a respect for the rights of creators,” he says. The idea is to raise awareness so fans will buy their music from legitimate platforms. “And on that count,” he says, “we think our efforts have made a real difference.”

One of the bloggers who wrote about the fees, lawyer Ray Beckerman of Forest Hills, N.Y., tells the ABA Journal he questions why the RIAA is collecting judgments on behalf of record label plaintiffs, since it is supposed to represent the entire industry. “If the RIAA was paying lawyers to collect money for four of its members [the major record labels], that would raise all kinds of legal issues, as near as I can tell,” he says.

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