Danny Hellman

According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a year ago, Tanya Andersen, a 42-year-old single mom in Tualatin, Oregon hopped out of bed at 4 am to download "gangster rap" on her home computer. And now, even though the woman has steadfastly denied the accusation (she doesn't even like rap music, she claims), RIAA is demanding that the woman pay them thousands of dollars. It's all part of RIAA's sprawling—and oftentimes, illogical and callous—enforcement against music downloads.

But the problem for RIAA is that it seems highly unlikely that Andersen downloaded any music from her home computer—and now she is suing back.

Over the past two years, according to court documents obtained by the Mercury, RIAA has relentlessly and quietly registered judgments against more than 13,000 individuals across the country, including Andersen. But the problem is, Andersen's lawsuit claims that RIAA has erroneously implicated her and have employed downright thuggish techniques to collect money. In fact, Andersen's attorney is suing RIAA under the RICO Act, a federal law traditionally employed to prosecute mobsters.

Andersen's problems first began in February when she received a letter from a L.A.-based law firm. She was informed that, at a minimum, she would be required to pay $750 for each song she allegedly downloaded.

What Andersen didn't know at the time is that RIAA had for months been investigating, spying, and even prosecuting a lawsuit against her. Her case was one of the 13,000 so-called "John Doe Defendant" lawsuits; a bundle of cases that should frighten anyone whose computer is linked to the internet.

Starting in 2003, RIAA allegedly contracted companies to snoop around the internet. Like cat burglars, RIAA's cyber-spies allegedly have been slipping into home computers and capturing private information—almost everything except the user's actual name.

If this cyber-spy finds what it believes to be an illegally downloaded or shared file, RIAA turns around and sues the anonymous person in federal court in Washington D.C. In this manner, some 13,000 anonymous computer owners have had judgments entered against them. Armed with this legal judgment, RIAA then forces ISP providers to turn over the name and identify the user.

In Andersen's case, Verizon allegedly gave her name to RIAA, who then forwarded her case to a collection agency. When they contacted Andersen, she was told it would be cheaper for her to pay RIAA than to fight the charges—even if they were wholly unfounded.

But Andersen could not afford to pay any money—even just to get RIAA off her back. She's a single mom with an eight-year old daughter who lives off disability checks. She says that paying out even a few thousand dollars could sink her.

For months, Andersen tried to plead with RIAA for understanding. In a heartfelt five-page letter, Andersen asserts, "There is no way it came from my household." Andersen continues, "Several of the artists I have never even heard of! One, I understand, is a rap song. I am 42 years old and do not even like rap music."

But these letters did nothing to dissuade RIAA, who has continued to demand thousands of dollars from Andersen.

Two weeks ago, Andersen filed a lawsuit against RIAA for harassment, intimidation, and electronic trespass. If successful, Andersen's suit could put a stop to RIAA's actions.