File-sharing lawsuits generally have a David versus Goliath feel to them. On one side is a cabal of multibillion-dollar music behemoths. The other side is a cross-section of Americana—single mothers, grandparents, middle-class suburban families—all of which lack the vast array of resources the RIAA has at hand. A new Expert Witness Defense Fund established today by the Free Software Foundation and the Recording Industry vs The People blog (run by copyright attorney Ray Beckerman) looks to even out the scales of justice.
“I know why you’re calling,” Beckerman told me. “That could be the most important post I’ve ever made.”
The fund will be used to help defendants cover the costs of expert witnesses used to defend themselves against file-sharing lawsuits brought by the recording industry. In order to get a payout from a fund, a case will have to meet certain criteria. Those include the defendant’s willingness to see the case through to conclusion, the importance of the case to critical legal issues, the amount of money spent by the defendant and/or the attorney fighting the infringement claims, the need for assistance and technical expertise, and the competing needs of other cases.
“The importance of the case to the critical legal issues is the most important of the criteria,” Beckerman told Ars.
“The fund arose out of discussions that have been going on for quite some time,” Beckerman said. “There’s such a need for technical expertise in these cases that establishing a fund to pay the costs is so important.”
Ultimately, it will be up to the FSF to decide who gets assistance, but the group will be advised by a panel of attorneys chaired by Beckerman. Also serving on the panel are two other copyright attorneys with significant experience fighting the RIAA: Richard Altman and Marilyn Barringer-Thompson, who won almost $70,000 in attorneys fees after her client prevailed against the RIAA in Capitol v. Foster.
“This could be a real catalyst in the file-sharing litigation,” Beckerman said. If you agree and want to contribute to the fund, the FSF has a page set up for contributions. If you’ve found yourself on the wrong end of a file-sharing lawsuit, you can e-mail Beckerman with the subject “Technical Expert Funding Request.”