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Woman accused of music piracy gets legal help

A mother of five accused of illegal downloading by the music industry decided to fight the charges in court. But as her legal costs mounted, she found help from a crowd of Internet activists.
"If I could show you the stack of paper, the stuff I had to do," says Patricia Santangelo at home in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. "All of sudden I felt very small."Kathy Mclaughlin / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Patricia Santangelo just wanted to save money, but the mother of five quickly realized that acting as her own lawyer against the music companies accusing her of illegal downloading was a big-time money-burner. Fortunately, for her, it didn't take long for the Internet crowd to help her out.

Santangelo, who is being sued by the Recording Industry Association of America for allegedly pirating songs, said Thursday that pending court approval she is hiring an attorney to defend her in the civil case being brought here.

The Wappingers Falls woman says she never downloaded any songs and if it was done on her computer by her children or their friends it's the fault of a file-sharing program for allowing them to do it.

The RIAA won't comment directly on her case, but spokeswoman Jenni Engebretsen said Thursday, "Our goal with all these anti-piracy efforts is to protect the ability of the recording industry to invest in new bands and new music and give legal online services a chance to flourish."

Because Santangelo's defense was emptying her bank account, she had dropped her previous lawyer. When she appeared in court on Dec. 22 she was the attorney of record, all alone at the defense table.

That went fine, because all she had to do was say, "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" to the judge's questions about scheduling and exchange of evidence.

But then, she said, came the avalanche of paper as the RIAA's law firm sent her requests for evidence plus the material it was sharing with her in the pretrial process known as discovery.

"If I could show you the stack of paper, the stuff I had to do, the demands on my life," Santangelo said in an interview after a brief court session. "All of a sudden I felt very small. It was overwhelming. ... It was fear."

Her new attorney, Jordan Glass, calls discovery "a synonym for $50,000."

"You can be your own lawyer, but you still have to pay for depositions, copying and the rest of it," Glass said. "As bright as Patti is, the legal process is specific, and it can be daunting."

Fortunately for Santangelo, her case has created a stir online among critics of the RIAA's tactics. They contend that music downloaders have the right to use the peer-to-peer networks like the ones the RIAA said were used on Sangangelo's computer. More than 16,000 people have been sued by the RIAA, and nearly 4,000 have settled. Santangelo refuses to settle, though it would be much less expensive than the $24,000 she says she already has spent.

Jon Newton, founder of an Internet site critical of the record companies, said Thursday that $5,699.63 had been raised online for Santangelo in a campaign he started. That money, he said, enabled her to hire Glass.

Newton, who lives on Vancouver Island on Canada's west coast, said by e-mail that the contributions have come from "ordinary kids, musicians, students, moms, dads, writers, waiters, programmers, bus drivers, artists."

"We're trying to help Patti take on what's become the common enemy — the corporate music industry, with its bottomless pockets and legions of lawyers," he said.