'Internet Illiterate' Mom Sued Over Music Downloads

Patricia Santangelo, holding court papers at her home-office desk, is defending herself in a court battle against the recording industry.
Patricia Santangelo, holding court papers at her home-office desk, is defending herself in a court battle against the recording industry. (By Kathy Mclaughlin -- Associated Press)

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By Jim Fitzgerald
Associated Press
Monday, December 26, 2005

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- It was Easter Sunday and Patricia Santangelo was in church with her kids when she says the music recording industry peeked into her computer and decided to take her to court.

Santangelo said she has never downloaded a single song on her computer, but the industry didn't see it that way. The woman from Wappingers Falls is among the more than 16,000 people who have been sued for allegedly pirating music through file-sharing computer networks.

"I assumed that when I explained to them who I was and that I wasn't a computer downloader, it would just go away," she said. "I didn't really understand what it all meant. But they just kept insisting on a financial settlement."

The industry is demanding thousands of dollars to settle the case, but Santangelo, unlike the 3,700 defendants who have already settled, said she will stand on principle and fight the lawsuit.

"It's a moral issue," she said. "I can't sign something that says I agree to stop doing something I never did."

If the downloading was done on her computer, Santangelo says, she thinks it may have been the work of a young friend of her children. Santangelo, 43, has been described by a federal judge as "an Internet-illiterate parent, who does not know Kazaa from kazoo, and who can barely retrieve her e-mail."

The drain on her resources to fight the case -- she's divorced, has five children aged 7 to 19 and works as a property manager for a real estate company -- forced her this month to drop her lawyer and begin representing herself.

"There was just no way I could continue on with a lawyer," she said. "I'm out $24,000 and we haven't even gone to trial."

So on Thursday she sat alone at the defense table before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Fox in White Plains, looking a little nervous and replying simply, "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" to his questions about scheduling and evidence exchange.

She did not look like someone who would have downloaded songs like Incubus's "Nowhere Fast," Godsmack's "Whatever" and Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life," all of which were allegedly found on her computer.

Her former lawyer, Ray Beckerman, said Santangelo doesn't really need him.

"I'm sure she's going to win," he said. "I don't see how they could win. They have no case. They have no evidence she ever did anything. They don't know how the files appeared on her computer or who put them there."


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