(Wired) BOSTON — In a possible case of mistaken identity, the recording industry has withdrawn a lawsuit against a 66-year-old sculptor who claims never to have even downloaded song-sharing software, let alone used it.
Sarah Seabury Ward, of Newbury, Massachusetts, and her husband use their computer to e-mail with children and grandchildren, said Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Cindy Cohn, who has worked with the family. They use a Macintosh, which cannot even run the Kazaa file-sharing service they are accused of using illegally.
Nonetheless, Ward was one of 261 defendants sued by the recording industry this month for illegal Internet file sharing. Ward was accused of illegally sharing more than 2,000 songs, including rapper Trick Daddy’s “I’m a Thug.”
An attorney for the Recording Industry Association of America withdrew the case Friday, calling the move a “gesture of good faith” but writing in a letter to Ward’s attorney that the organization would continue to look into the matter and reserved the right to re-file.
RIAA spokeswoman Amy Weiss said Wednesday the group believes the computer address — known as an Internet protocol (IP) address — provided by Comcast, Ward’s Internet service provider, is correct and the organization still believes it has the right account.
Cohn said she expects more cases like this to emerge, given the difficulties of tying IP addresses to particular individuals. She said Internet service providers like Comcast don’t have enough IP addresses for each user, so they shuffle them around, and it is difficult to track which addresses were assigned to a particular account.
“This is what happens when you sweep away all the due process protections and all the privacy protections,” Cohn said. “Those are the kinds of things that would stop this before it gets to the stage where you sue some nice old lady who did nothing wrong.”
Comcast spokeswoman Sarah Eder declined to comment specifically on Ward’s case, but said the company has helped the recording industry to match IP addresses with users’ names, but only in cases where Comcast is legally bound to do so.
Ward’s husband and attorney declined to comment.
Weiss said this was the only case the RIAA had withdrawn, but Cohn said her group was investigating several others that may involve mistaken identity. Cohn said more than half of the defendants who have contacted her group claim another member of their household was doing the file sharing.
The RIAA certainly is willing to go directly after the offending family members, as in the case of Brianna LaHara, a 12-year-old honors student from New York who was named as one of the 261 defendants. Her mother settled the case for $2,000 and an apology from Brianna.