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Boston Judge finds RIAA denies defendants meaningful access to our courts

In a 1963 Supreme Court decision Justice Hugo Black opined that every defendant in a criminal case must have access to a lawyer. The right to a fair trial in an adversarial system such as US law depended on both sides having competent representation. Today a story broke about the recent RIAA cases here in Boston where a judge is mirroring the same sentiments. What is interesting about this is the cases in question are civil and not criminal. The RIAA has opted for civil prosecution in the majority of the file sharing lawsuits and for good reason. Civil cases have lax rules surrounding evidence and the defendant is not guaranteed a right to counsel. Judge Gertner remarked that “there is a huge imbalance in these cases. The record companies are represented by large law firms with substantial resources. [The] … counsel representing the record companies have an ethical obligation to fully understand that they are fighting people without lawyers… to understand that the formalities of this are basically bankrupting people, and it’s terribly critical that you stop it….” [warning: pdf]

Maybe its time for another “Gideon” to petition the US Supreme Court. How many thousands have capitulated to the RIAA because they can’t afford an attorney? Despite being tried in a civil court aren’t these cases criminal in nature? Judge Gertner seems to suggest that defendants in RIAA cases are not receiving fair trials which is supposed to be guaranteed by the 6th Amendment. While the 6th Amendment is about criminal law the spirit of it seems to suggest cases where the defendants lives are on the line. At the time of the framing I doubt any civil case could deprive citizens of all their money and possessions. The RIAA’s end run around our legal system is denying defendants “meaningful access to the courts”. How long will this country allow the RIAA to make a mockery of our legal system?

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