After taking its antipiracy campaign to court, the music industry is finding itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit that challenges its purported amnesty program as a fraudulent business practice.
The Riaa (Recording Industry Association of America) announced its Clean Slate program earlier this week when it filed suit against 261 people for copyright infringement.
The Clean Slate program claims to offer amnesty to repentant file-swappers who promise to stop using peer-to-peer services to illegally download copyrighted works and to destroy any copies of downloaded audio files.
To qualify for the amnesty program, applicants must send the Riaa a sworn, notarised affidavit with their full name, address, telephone number and email address. In turn, the Riaa agrees not to "support or assist in any copyright infringement suits based on past conduct", according to the organisation.
But the offer is neither clean nor a sweep, says Ira Rothken, the lawyer who filed the consumer lawsuit in California Superior Court on behalf of Eric Parke, a former paralegal who, Rothken says, hasn't used peer-to-peer networks to download music illegally.
Rothken denies that the Riaa scheme offers file swappers amnesty. "The legal document provides no release of claims, no promise not to sue you. It offers no promise to actually clean the slate by destroying the data that these people provide," he says. "All it says is that the Riaa simply will not co-operate in any lawsuit brought against you. That on its face is a deceptive business practice".
It is also deceptive as the Riaa doesn't actually own the copyrights in question. Even when the Clean Slate program was first announced some commentators suggested that admitting to sharing copyrighted material might leave people open to legal action from copyright owners.
But Cary Sherman, the Riaa's president, addressed these concerns when announcing the copyright crackdown and amnesty deal. He rebutted suggestions that participating in the Clean Slate program could prove costly.
"We have pledged to keep this information solely for our use, for our records of people who should not be sued," Sherman said. He said the Riaa would not release the data to copyright holders who might intend to sue.