Deceased woman named in file-sharing suit

By | February 4, 2005 at 12:00 AM

Gertrude Walton of Fayette County hated computers, her daughter said.

That did not stop the recording industry from accusing the now deceased 83-year-old Mount Hope woman of illegally trading music over the Internet.

More than a month after Walton was buried in Beckley, a group of record companies named her as the only defendant in a federal lawsuit. They claimed Walton made more than 700 pop, rock and rap songs available for free on the Internet under the screen name “smittenedkitten.”

On Thursday, a spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America acknowledged that Walton was probably not the smittenedkitten it is searching for.

“Our evidence gathering and our subsequent legal actions all were initiated weeks and even months ago,” said RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy. “We will now, of course, obviously dismiss this case.”

Walton’s daughter, Robin Chianumba, lived with her mother for the last 17 years of her life and said her mother objected to having a computer in the house. Chianumba said she didn’t know anything about the record company’s claims. And she said she does not know anything about the screen name.

“My mother was computer illiterate. She hated a computer,” Chianumba said. “My mother wouldn’t know how to turn on a computer.”

The case demonstrates the imperfections of the record industry’s two-year old effort to hunt down and sue people who put hundreds, even thousands, of copyrighted songs onto file-sharing networks on the Internet.

The industry tracks down file-swappers using the Internet Protocol addresses attached to their relatively anonymous screen names.

The IP addresses are useful because they identify computers on the Internet. But investigators cannot use the numeric codes to figure out who is using a particular computer. Often, they can only use the IP address to learn who is getting billed for the computer’s Internet service.

In more than a handful of cases, the record industry has sued a person for file-swapping, then later learned that they were really after the defendant’s child or grandchild.

Chianumba said she faxed a copy of her mother’s death certificate to record company officials several days before the lawsuit was filed. She said she did that in response to a letter from the company regarding the upcoming legal filing.

“I believe that if music companies are going to set examples they need to do it to appropriate people and not dead people,” Chianumba said. “I am pretty sure she is not going to leave Greenwood Memorial Park [where she is buried] to attend the hearing. I don’t know if this is a scheme to get money, I just don’t know what’s going on. I am concerned.”

When Walton died on Dec. 11 after a long illness, she was survived by eight children, 24 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren, according to her obituary.

Could smittenedkitten be one of them? The RIAA declined to say.

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