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RIAA Caught in Tough Legal Situation 267

Posted by samzenpus
from the catch-22 dept.
JeffreysTube writes "The RIAA's legal fight against a divorced mother has run into trouble, with the judge now telling the RIAA that its only two options are to proceed with a jury trial against Patty Santangelo or dismiss the case with prejudice. If the latter happens, Santangelo officially "wins" and could collect attorneys' fees. The judge is less than pleased with the RIAA, which is now trying to drop the case without giving Santangelo a chance to be declared guilty. 'This case is two years old,' wrote Judge McMahon. 'There has been extensive fact discovery. After taking this discovery, either plaintiffs want to make their case that Mrs. Santangelo is guilty of contributory copyright infringement or they do not.'"
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RIAA Caught in Tough Legal Situation

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  • by djupedal (584558) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @04:30AM (#18440487)
    JeffreysTube wrote" "The judge is less than pleased with the RIAA, which is now trying to drop the case without giving Santangelo a chance to be declared guilty."

    Somehow, I don't think Mrs. Santangelo is in this to be declared guilty. But hey, I'm just a dazed onlooker - what would I know about the law.
    • by Fordiman (689627)
      *waits for the 'haha' tag to get applied*

      Yeah, definitely misworded. Still, these failed lawsuits are fun to watch. Like a flan collapsing in a cupboard.

      Here's hoping the RIAA member companies wise up, stop the lawsuits, drop the DRM, and maybe get a good artist or two.
    • by tinkertim (918832) * on Thursday March 22, 2007 @05:02AM (#18440623) Homepage

      Somehow, I don't think Mrs. Santangelo is in this to be declared guilty. But hey, I'm just a dazed onlooker - what would I know about the law.


      Any sane person in a sane world probably thinks the same way, and of course the woman would not want to be found guilty. The RIAA sees that they are (probably) going to lose, and wants to try again from a different angle.

      The key words are with or without prejudice. The RIAA right now is trying to have the case dismissed without prejudice, which basically is asking the judge to wipe out the last two years and allow them to start the process all over again.

      If the case is dismissed with prejudice, it means the court will not entertain this and the woman can then (most likely) recoup her attorney's fees from the RIAA. Dismissed with prejudice is the next best thing to "Not Guilty".

      This would set precedent that if the RIAA bullies you, and you win, you get to collect from them whatever costs you spent on your legal defense. The RIAA does not want this to happen.

      So either they have to win the case on merit, or dismiss with prejudice. Its very (very) doubtful that they will win the case. If they lose (yep, you guessed it) the woman can sue to recoup legal expenses and will most likely win after long drawn out appeals and doors open to civil harassment suits.

      Either way, precedent is about to be set that will help people fight off RIAA bullies, which of course they don't want to happen.

      They need to stop harassing people who can't hope to match their legal resources. This woman basically just kicked them in the nuts, hard. Good for her. Just like a good old fashioned kick in the nuts, you don't feel the 'real' pain immediately, for the benefit of those without nuts or experience in having them kicked.
      • by rucs_hack (784150) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @05:07AM (#18440647)
        This woman basically just kicked them in the nuts, hard. Good for her. Just like a good old fashioned kick in the nuts, you don't feel the 'real' pain immediately, for the benefit of those without nuts or experience in having them kicked

        Little too much detail on your final point there bud
      • by jkrise (535370) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @05:11AM (#18440663) Journal
        This woman basically just kicked them in the nuts, hard. Good for her. Just like a good old fashioned kick in the nuts, you don't feel the 'real' pain immediately, for the benefit of those without nuts or experience in having them kicked.

        Give us a youtube link, and we'll decide. Or is that covered by an RIAA copyright as well?
      • "They need to stop harassing people who can't hope to match their legal resources. This woman basically just kicked them in the nuts, hard. Good for her. Just like a good old fashioned kick in the nuts, you don't feel the 'real' pain immediately, for the benefit of those without nuts or experience in having them kicked."

        Why am I picturing the RIAA lawyers all standing there with their hands over their nads while a diminutive lady dressed in black with asthma and a bouffant [sp?] eyeing them up?
    • But hey, I'm just a dazed onlooker - what would I know about the law.

      Yeah well, I just came across this [freeinternetpress.com]: Eubanks, who served for 22 years as a lawyer at Justice:


      "Political interference is happening at Justice across the department," she said. "When decisions are made now in the Bush attorney general's office, politics is the primary consideration. ... The rule of law goes out the window."

      So, whatever we think we know, there's always someone who knows better...

  • Declared guilty? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tim C (15259) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @04:41AM (#18440539)
    Somehow I think the judge is upset that the defendant may not have the chance to be declared innocent - that is, that the RIAA appear to be trying to walk away from making a baseless claim without the defendant having the opportunity to have his name cleared officially.

    Were that to happen, I wonder if there would be any scope in pursuing a claim for defamation? (No, I don't think I would in that position, but it would almost certainly cross my mind...)
    • Re:Declared guilty? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Senjutsu (614542) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @05:43AM (#18440805)
      No, you're quite incorrect. US courts do not and cannot declare people "innocent", merely "not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" which isn't the same thing.

      What the Judge is telling the RIAA here is that, having completed discovery, they can either go to a jury trial and pursue a guilty verdict, or have the case dismissed with prejudice. See, the way everything has worked out for them in this case so far, they've got a snowball's cahnce in hell of winning, and they don't want to lose and set some nasty precedents (like the having to pay court fees for indiscriminately suing people with shitty evidence). What they want to do is back out of the case by dropping it and then suing her again for the same thing, in a different court with different tactics to try to get a better likelihood of winning. The Judge is telling them to either take it to a Jury and lose or be dismissed with prejudice and be unable to sue her again for the same thing. They're fucked either way.
      • Re:Declared guilty? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by NewYorkCountryLawyer (912032) * <[ray] [at] [beckermanlegal.com]> on Thursday March 22, 2007 @06:28AM (#18440987) Homepage Journal
        They're not really interested in suing her again.

        They are, however, interested in avoiding having to pay her legal fees.

        In Capitol v. Foster [blogspot.com] it was held that if they dismiss "with prejudice" defendant is a "prevailing party" and therefore eligible for an award of attorneys fees. See July 13, 2006, Order and Decision [ilrweb.com]. (pdf)

        • by v1 (525388) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @07:54AM (#18441343) Homepage Journal
          I get the impression that they are actually not too interested in attourney's fees. I believe they are more concerned about people getting declared innocent. Right now I believe their tactic is to sue people and get them to settle, (basically declaring themselves guilty) 100% of the time. They don't want any "not guilty" verdicts to mar their reputation. So if the victim really puts up a fight, the legal system will most likely work the way it's supposed to, and the court will have to find them not guilty. The riaa wil do whatever it can to avoid this, and wants to have the case dropped since it has become clear now that (A) they cannot really win the case (they already actually knew this from the start) and (B) this victim is willing and able to see this case to the bitter end. They are going to pull anything they can to avoid chalking up a "not guilty" verdict on their record. I believe the judge is pissed off that the riaa has wasted the court's time with a case that they knew they could not win in the first place, trying to use the courts to extort money and PR from the victim, and in this case both the victim and the judge are all for a full drag out see-it-to-the-end case.

          The riaa uses money to stuff their mattress pad. They could care less about paying one person's attourney's fees. The problem here is if they end up paying THIS woman's attourney, this will send a very loud message to all the other future victims that yes you really can win against the riaa and engaging in a court battle is not going to make you lose your house and your job, as the riaa is trying to scare everyone into believing. Once we get a couple Not Guilty chalked up, the riaa will find there are a lot fewer victims willing to just roll over when the lawyers come calling. Then it will not be a matter of paying one woman's attourney - if they sue 100 ppl a year then they will be paying 95 of them attourney fees, and THIS is going to bust their groove. This is the scenario the riaa is desperately trying to avoid by having this case dropped without prejudice.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by proberts (9821)
        "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is for criminal law. This is a civil case, so it's "A preponderance of the evidence" that's the yardstick. Also, the precedent for having to pay for suing people without merit has already been set, they're not going to generate new caselaw there. More likely, they're trying to weasel out of having to pay costs, which the judge has rightfully blocked- a nice case of the system working as it should, but really nothing all that groundbreaking.

        Paul
      • Re:Declared guilty? (Score:5, Informative)

        by debrain (29228) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @09:18AM (#18441959) Journal
        What the Judge is telling the RIAA here is that, having completed discovery, they can either go to a jury trial and pursue a guilty verdict, or have the case dismissed with prejudice.

        This is a civil [wikipedia.org] suit (it's a poor reference, sorry). It is not 'guilt' in the criminal sense so much as factual and legal causation, on a "balance of probabilities" (i.e. 50%+1 chance), and unlike criminal law its purpose is not punishment. Rather, as I understand it, common law civil suits (less punitive damages for what's known as first-party breach of fiduciary duties) are compensatory, designed to put the person suing in one of three positions

        1. as good a position as they were in before the wrong, had the wrong had not happened;
        2. as good a position as they would have been in now, had the wrong had not happened;
        3. the position of receiving the unjust benefit that has gone to the person who committed the wrong. (i.e. unjustly enriched [wikipedia.org])

        I believe these are the three forms of damages generally arising in common law.

        In the case of the RIAA, #1 means undoing the infringement and the intangible benefits arising from those having listened to it. This is hard, nigh impossible, to calculate and undo. Had the lady sold the songs, it'd be different.

        Under #2, they can claim they lost income from the loss of sale, and demand that it be paid, now.

        Under #3, they can claim that that the woman's benefits from the claim were unjust, but this is more an economic argument. (i.e. if she stole the song and re-sold it for $1 million- if it is not a sale the RIAA would ever have made then the RIAA cannot claim the $1 million under #1 or #2, but can under #3)

        However, this is all modified by the copyright legislation, which essentially provides a statutory value to #2, and effectively at punitive rates (thus, in effect constructing the legal inference that an individual has a duty of utmost good faith to the copyright holder). Thus, when the RIAA sues under #1, they can sue at exorbitant, punitive rates, way beyond any actual loss. This is designed as a deterrent to copyright infringement (like criminal law's punitive damages), except it doesn't have the checks and balances of criminal law (insofar as they exist) because a private individual can bring a copyright infringement claim and the standard of proof is only 50%+1 (i.e. 'balance of probabilities'- best highlighted by OJ Simpson being not guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, but guilty on a balance of probabilities, making him not-liable in punitive criminal law, but guilty in civil compensation).

        However, in the end, this case isn't about damages. The issue in this case seems to have been the lack of evidence brought by the RIAA. In many (virtually all) jurisdictions, this results in an adverse 'cost' award, where you have to pay the fees of the defendant (a compensatory deterrent to frivolous actions, precisely like the RIAA barratry [wikipedia.org]).
        Hope that's food for thought.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      She IS innocent

      AFAIR that's still the law in this country. You're innocent until proven guilty.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jackbird (721605)
        You're innocent until proven guilty. Actually, the law in this country is that she's neither, since it's a civil case. The jury would find either for the plaintiff or the defendant.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by kcbrown (7426)

        AFAIR that's still the law in this country. You're innocent until proven guilty.

        It's not clear to me how much truth there is to that in civil cases, though. They're decided on the "preponderance of evidence".

        Frankly, I think civil cases and criminal cases should both be decided based on "evidence beyond a reasonable doubt". Why? Because while a civil case doesn't strip an individual of their freedom, it does strip them of their assets. Those assets were usually acquired through a lot of hard wor

      • There's a different level of standards in a Civil suit.
    • A case dismissed without prejudice can be brought again, once the plaintiff finds a new angle. The judge is saying the defendent has a right to closure, and owing the lack of evidence and shaky legal theory, she doesn't deserve to be forced to help pay for the RIAA's test of its tactics.
  • by philovivero (321158) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @04:54AM (#18440599) Homepage Journal
    You know, I don't think it's a catch-22 if you jump into the water, insult everyone in earshot, and piss them off so that they all hate you. I think that's called painting yourself in a corner.

    So who's gonna extend a helping hand and get the RIAA out of the corner? I guess it's time for another metaphor. The metaphor of the drowning man.
    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @06:34AM (#18441009) Homepage
      Even moreso, the RIAA seems to be trying to walk away from the case and leaving the defendant poorer due to legal costs.
      Imagine the effect if future victims of the RIAA know that if they try to defend themselves in court, they'll lose money no matter what.
      If that isn't a chilling effect, then I don't know what is.
      • by canfirman (697952) <pdavi25.yahoo@ca> on Thursday March 22, 2007 @08:31AM (#18441547)
        Even moreso, the RIAA seems to be trying to walk away from the case and leaving the defendant poorer due to legal costs. Imagine the effect if future victims of the RIAA know that if they try to defend themselves in court, they'll lose money no matter what. If that isn't a chilling effect, then I don't know what is.

        Exactly. I take this statement from the judge to mean, "You just can't drag this poor woman through 2 years of hell and expect to just walk away from it." I applaude the judge for his stand.

    • by sconeu (64226)
      Q: How do you save a drowning RIAA lawyer?

      A: Throw him a rock.
  • by jkrise (535370) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @05:06AM (#18440645) Journal
    would case-law still be deemed to have been made? The only reason for dropping cases that aren't going favourably could be to avoid case-law being made.

    Also, if merely providing internet access facilities to others makes one guilty of the uses / activities done on that IP, then many IT firms have reasons to be seriously worried. Malware and Service Packs are downloaded over the same IP and the same protocols. It will be almost impossible to operate any net-enabled firm at all.
    • She's a fool to go for an out-of-court settlement now. Not unless RIAA gives her some huge sum of money (> her attorney fees + $100000), and that's a whole different kind of precedent.

      • by jkrise (535370) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @05:27AM (#18440729) Journal
        Not unless RIAA gives her some huge sum of money (> her attorney fees + $100000), and that's a whole different kind of precedent.

        You could add a coupla' zeroes to that figure, and the RIAA might still settle outside court, if it precludes case-law being made. This case will make the law that the mere possession or proviioning of an ip-address does not mkae one guilty of copyright violations over that ip-address. Many IT firms and ISPs will breathe easy once the case-law is made.
        • by xtracto (837672) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @07:57AM (#18441363) Journal
          You see, if lawyers starting realising that it is possible to get fees from RIAA lawsuits they are more likely to accept defending the normal people without asking for payment (what is the term for that?). Lawyers are like sharks and if they see that RIAA (that huge a$$ociation with $hitload$ of ca$h) starts bleeding some cash for lawyers they will be very attracted to defend this people.

          Every new sued person is a potential new job for a lawyer.
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by tsalaroth (798327)
            The term you're looking for is "chum".

            IANAL, but I watched several friends destroy their souls in law school - from what I understand, you're completely correct. If the RIAA starts bleeding in the water, lawyers all over will start taking the cases pro bono or nearly so. They usually ask for a small (30-40%) portion of the settlement, should you win.
            • IANAL, but I think 'pro bono' means the lawyer won't get paid at all. I think what's meant is 'on contingency', that is, the lawyer only gets paid if he/she wins.
          • by fallen1 (230220)

            are more likely to accept defending the normal people without asking for payment (what is the term for that?)

            The term is pro bono publico. There is irony in that term, thanks to an Irish rock star. Funny that, eh? :)

      • Not unless RIAA gives her some huge sum of money (> her attorney fees + $100000),

        Um, Dr.Evil, $100,000 isn't that much money any more. Anything less than $10 million is beans with this kind of publicity. She should ride it out to a legal precedent, then write a book and do some talk show appearences.
    • by pla (258480)
      would case-law still be deemed to have been made? The only reason for dropping cases that aren't going favourably could be to avoid case-law being made.

      IANAL, of course. But as I understand it, this wouldn't do much to create an anti-RIAA "case law" anyway, even if she flat-out wins.

      Simply put, the RIAA has squat while she has an overwhelming abundance of evidence in her favor. While we may suspect the same conditions apply in at least a few of the other RIAA suits, I really have little doubt that th
      • If she wins flat out, a flood of copy-cat defenses will appear, since many, many of the RIAA's victims are in the same situation: no evidence against them, no money for them, atrocities have NOT been committed, etc. As soon as RIAA is forced to fully face the music one time, everyone else will rush to play the same tune.
        And that kills the RIAA's backup business plan - "if you can't hold the product hostage, hold the customer hostage".
  • by Budenny (888916) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @05:07AM (#18440651)
    They don't realize that the enemy is not file sharing or people getting their content for free. The real enemy is people buying only the tracks they want, and so lowering the average value of a purchase. The great thing about an LP/CD from a company point of view is that it was a bundle at a high price. This is a key difference between movie downloads and music downloads.

    It is very hard to see how they get around this one. Prosecuting people will not take care of the move to singles. They probably cannot raise the price of the singles. It is hard to see how they ever reinstate the album purchase to where it was.

    Yes, its tough. And they are not helping themselves by focussing on a completely different problem from the real one.
    • by ToastyKen (10169) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @05:39AM (#18440791) Homepage Journal
      I think they DO believe that individual track sales hurts them, and it's public knowledge that they've been trying to convince Apple to let them sell popular singles for more than 99&#162; for a while now, but Apple has not been budging because they think that would turn people off of iTunes altogether.
      • I download albums (Score:5, Interesting)

        by DuncanE (35734) * on Thursday March 22, 2007 @06:27AM (#18440981) Homepage
        Damn I already moded this discussion, but I feel I need to post....

        I prefer to download whole albums, either legally or through dubious means (*cough* allofmp3 *cough*). I think it gives a better indication of the artist and the art they perform.

        I hear a song I like via a friend or the radio (I'm on Oz so we have tripleJ/classicFm/Digg ... Google if you dont know what I mean). Almost always the album is similar in quality to the single and often I hear songs I love that just would get airplay EVER.

        I would happily pay for all my music album downloads if I could choose my bit rate, the files were DRM free and the price was reasonable lower than the cost of a CD (*cough* allofmp3 *cough*).
    • What happens if the defendant just.... dies? Does the case just get closed? Is it worth it for the RIAA to spend a few thousand dollars to just kill her and avoid precedent from being established?
      • by ajs318 (655362)
        Given that she was a defendant in an ongoing court case, it would almost certainly be treated as Death in Suspicious Circumstances.
    • Not really (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phorm (591458)
      I think at the moment they're facing many enemies, but overall their greatest is in fact their own incompetence and inability to smoothly transition in a changing market. Their own enemy is simple greed.

      For years and even decades, music companies have managed to milk the talent of skilled performers while at the same time overpumping and burning out mediocre ones. However, those days are gone, and the market has changed. Gone are the days when you needed to buy three tapes if you wanted a proper-quality v
  • Vexatious litigation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gerrysteele (927030)
    Surely this fits the bill of Vexatious litigation? The fact that they have done this kind of thing over and over. Should they really not be taken down over this? Are there no US regulatory legal authorities that look out for people's interests?
  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @06:50AM (#18441079)

    INAL but really I regard this as a ruling against RIAA's bullying tactics.

    It appears to me they are trying to draw out the costs of the case through two years of pre-trial discovery. The idea appears to be simply to bankrupt the defense and/or intimidate potential future defendants (i.e. the public) by showing that they don't have to go to trial in order to financially ruin their victim. Seems to occur commonly enough whenever one party in a case has especially deep pockets and the other doesn't.

    What the judge is saying is, the RIAA can't just run up a huge legal bill and walk away. Score one for the little guy.

    • by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Thursday March 22, 2007 @08:33AM (#18441571)

      What the judge is saying is, the RIAA can't just run up a huge legal bill and walk away. Score one for the little guy.

      That should be the case as a matter of law. That it's not is a travesty of justice, and makes it obvious that the U.S. legal system is not designed to serve the people, but to serve the lawyers and moneyed interests.

      There should be no option of dropping a case without prejudice unless the defense agrees. If you were stupid enough to bring a case against someone else before the court without significant evidence, you should by law be forced to suffer the consequences, either by losing the case entirely or by being forced to pay for their defense, if your case is weak and the defendant is willing to fight to the finish.

      And yes, I realize the consequences regarding suing a well-financed opponent. That's why I think any civil judgment rendered, whether it's against the plaintiff or the defendant, should be limited by law to a maximum of some large percentage of that entity's total assets. That way, if an individual sues a corporation and loses, it'll hurt a lot but it won't completely bankrupt the individual.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Wylfing (144940)

        Unfortunately your ideas are worse than the status quo.

        There is nothing "obvious" about how the law is constructed in the U.S. The law is, essentially, our ongoing attempt to define what American life is supposed to be like. This is because in the U.S. we do not have a single localized ethnic tribal tradition to guide our behavior, we're a mishmash of lots of those, so we need to rely on law to figure out how we want to behave toward each other. (As other countries experience this move toward "mishmashines

  • I haven't paid for recorded music in a long time, and will not do so again until things change for the better.
    I eagerly await the day when
    1) DRM-free files or CDs cost less than DVD movies (around $5 US would be just fine for an album)
    2) The mafiaa isn't insulting/threatening/suing us. ... when that happens I'll be happy to go back to the pre-net ways of using available cash to fill my closet or HD with music, and shopping in bricks-or-no-bricks stores for music.

    • by meatspray (59961)
      People who are going to download without paying, are going to do it anyway. They had a pretty sweet deal for years. You could get hold of the new stuff by taping it off the radio or dubbing it from a friend, but the media degraded over time and the quality was sub par anyway. Every time the marketing execs at the record company worked out a new hit, ever other teenager would run out and buy the album with hopes that something else on it would be worth listening to. That's why there are so many "one hit
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jZnat (793348) *
      Well, a couple options for you then would be Magnatune [magnatune.com] ($5/album, downloadable, no DRM, your choice of FLAC, VBR MP3, Vorbis, and/or AAC; also lets you download 128k MP3 files of all the songs gratis so you know what you're buying) or a used CD/anything store or website like Half.com [half.com] (used CDs). If you know of a used CD store nearby, you could always go there to check out what they've got, and perhaps they have a way for you to sample the CDs like so many of them do.
  • by redelm (54142) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @08:23AM (#18441507) Homepage
    This is a not-uncommon problem: plantiff sues but is wrong. How should innocent defendant be protected/compensated and plaintiffs made more cautious? The UK & Commonwealth do this by awarding costs, but this may be against the US Constitution.

    The usual American solution is to cross-file, wherein defendant becomes cross-plantiff. Then plantiff might well withdraw their suit, but cross action proceeds. Most often, both are cleared in a settlement agreement.

    Here, it appears the crossfile was not done, so the Judge has to unfortunately step in.

  • It's funny, it seems the RIAA thought they would just steamroll their way over people using big legal teams and ominous threats. Now, they are meeting resistance and potentially losing battles which are gonna cost them credibility and double legal fees (theirs plus the defendants). I mean, is it me or are they obviously just shaking people down hoping they get scared and pay up? If I were one of the lucky ones to have been scared into paying up early on I would be thinking about going back for some payba
  • I have as strong a sense of propriety and fairness as most, so, like most, the fact that the RIAA has filed suits against people who have had misfortunes heaped upon them by life's circumstances has aroused in me a sense of moral scorn for the RIAA. But, enough with the ad hominem. It is gratuitous for every story to highlight the adverse circumstances of a defendant, as if the unfortunate circumstances of that defendant is the dispositive feature of the case. Not every headline needs to be of the form:
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      t is gratuitous for every story to highlight the adverse circumstances of a defendant, as if the unfortunate circumstances of that defendant is the dispositive feature of the case. Not every headline needs to be of the form: RIAA sues divorced mother...

      The RIAA has their choice of whom they sue. The have the opportunity to investigate the circumstances of each case after their John Doe suit that they will drop (that's fraud on the Court, if anything is IMHO) once they have personally identifying informat

Wernher von Braun settled for a V-2 when he coulda had a V-8.

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