RIAA: Lobbyists or Law Enforcers?

When a story appears in the media involving piracy, it inevitably mentions how lobby groups like the RIAA get involved in helping establish evidence. Is this really needed, or does this compromise the cases? Should representatives for the victims really be used to form the basis of a criminal case, or should evidence be gathered by the police?

riaaNo matter where the story originates, be it the UK, USA, Italy, Asia, or Australia, it reads the same. A raid is carried out, assisted by members of the local anti-piracy lobby group. From Oink, to The Pirate Bay, these raids are consistently getting assistance and ‘evidence’ from those that claim to be losing out to the targets of these raids.

Some might think that this is acceptable – maybe police forces are not equipped to deal with highly technical cases like this, and so need to outsource to specialist agencies like these for help? This is certainly not the case, as many countries have specialist departments that are highly experienced and qualified in the forensic examination of computers and technology. The problem is more real. Interest groups that claim to be the victim – are allowed to participate in the prosecution of their targets.

In most police investigations, if a police officer is directly involved in a crime, he or she is usually unable to participate in the investigation as being involved reduces (or even eliminates) that person’s objectivity. Justice is meant to be blind, not fueled by thoughts of personal redemption or vengeance. However, time and time again we see ‘investigators’ for the MPAA or RIAA pop up in cases. Often they will state they (or their members) have had losses, thus making them the victim. If you believe that someone has caused you or your members a loss, are you going to act from that basis when gathering evidence, or will you work as hard to find the person innocent as you will to find them guilty?

While the problem is growing worse, it is doing so in only a limited way. It is only apparent in the gray area that is copyright infringement. Could you imagine the outcry in the UK, if anti-speed organization BRAKE was involved in investigating road traffic accidents? If they were, would a large percentage of accident investigations involving them find causes related to the organizations policy and positions? No police department anywhere in the world would consider requesting a Greenpeace investigator when looking into flytipping. So, why are media industry groups treated differently, when it comes to anything involving copyright?

The reason we’ve raised this is because of an incident in the US that caught our eye. A motorist driving in Park Forest, Il , a town some 30 miles south of Chicago , was pulled over for speeding. With an apparent suspended license he was arrested. The car was searched, and that’s where a few spindles of CDs and DVDs were found. The spindles had handwritten markings, labeling them as movies and music.

Surprisingly enough police called in the RIAA, a rather biased lobby group, to investigate the incident. As a result, the speeding motorist’s house was searched, and two of the 6 charges against him are relating to copyright. Whether the motorist turned out to be a commercial pirate or not is irrelevant, the fact that the police and the RIAA cooperate like this is what worries us. They might be searching iPods next.

Requests to Park Forest Police Chief Thomas Fleming have gone unanswered, and no trace of the RIAA investigator can be found either. It proves though, that no matter where you are, there is little chance of of a fair investigation if you’re accused of copyright infringement.

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