Beckerman, who runs the blog "Recording Industry vs. the People," is a New York attorney who represents regular people who have been targeted by the RIAA lawsuits. During his interview, he lambasted the organization for its methods.
"You have a multi-billion dollar cartel suing unemployed people, disabled people, housewives, single mothers, home healthcare aids, all kinds of people who have no resources whatsoever to withstand these litigations," Beckerman said. "And due to the adversary system of justice the RIAA will be successful in rewriting copyright law, if the world at large, and the technological community in particular, don't fight back and help these people fighting these fights."
One of Beckerman's biggest criticisms is the way investigations of file sharing are carried out, and the invasions of privacy that can accompany such inquiries. According to Beckerman, a RIAA investigator poses as a file-sharing-network user, tracks down a folder containing a suitable number of copyrighted songs, and takes a screen shot of the folder, assuming it is one big, shared folder. What the investigator does not do, Beckerman said, is discover whether the songs were obtained legally, through paid downloads, personal copy of an owned CD, or some other method; whether the files have ever been copied or used illegally; or reveal his method of association the file with a dynamic IP address.
The next step is for the investigator to go to the IP to obtain a name and address for the subscriber who paid for the connection, but Beckerman said that person is not necessarily the person who downloaded the files. "But once (the investigator) gets that information he then sues the person," he said.
Beckerman has been able to fight a few cases brought on by what he calls a "John Doe" process, but said that many judges do not understand the cases. He recalled a 2004 case in which an elderly judge was falsely informed by the RIAA that the metadata and the hash was enough to identify files that were copied illegally, and referred to that information when upholding the RIAA subpoena.
"We've tried to point out in our John Doe cases that the technical underpinning of the investigation is meaningless, that the metadata doesn't tell you anything, that it can be scrubbed, that it can be changed, that any real pirate would never leave the metadata of the thing he had purloined," he said. "The metadata tells you nothing, the hashmarks do not conclusively establish anything. Even seeing the shared files folder doesn't tell you which computer it resided on because all of these networks use one form or another of a hierarchy of computers ... so that when you see the shared files, all you're seeing is metadata from one computer or from a group of computers that are connected to one node, but the judges have no clue."
A break in the pattern has come in a case called Electro vs. Barker, in which a nursing student was sued for file sharing, but the complaint did not cite specific acts, dates, or times of copyright infringement. In this case, the RIAA has claimed that making files available on the internet is a copyright infringement.
"It was a shocking argument because if it were accepted it would probably shut down the entire internet," Beckerman said. The claim drew support for both sides, as Barker received support from some organizations in the form of an amicus curiae brief (volunteered information of an aspect of the case from a party not involved in it) and the RIAA received the backing of the Motion Picture Association and, to a lesser degree, the U.S. government. "If our motion to dismiss is granted and sustained on appeal it would mean the end of the RIAA juggernaut against innocent people not known to have committed a copyright infringement."
Unfortunately, Barker's extremely limited financial resources may upend the dismissal.
"Unless the world comes together and helps these defenseless people the RIAA is going to win all these battles one way or another and they're going to rewrite the copyright law," Beckerman said.