On September 8, to considerable fanfare, members of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed 261 suits against individuals who it claimed had illegally shared electronic music files. We wondered, What if other businesses sought to create the same customer experience? Here's what the morning papers might report. (Note to our more literal-minded readers: None of these people, if they even exist, said or did any of what follows.)
Elderly Woman Sued for Illicit Distribution of $1.15B in Recipes
Cincinnati - Following precedent set by the RIAA, Scribner (an imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc.) and the Rombauer estate filed charges in federal court Tuesday against Lucy Carlisle, a 79-year-old resident of Cincinnati, for distributing an estimated 380 recipes over the past 55 years. Emily Allen, spokeswoman for the family of famed recipe collector Irma S. Rombauer, cited lagging sales of the recently revised The Joy of Cooking (1997) as one indicator of the financial effect of persistent illegal recipe sharing. "Ms. Carlisle is what we're calling a 'major offender,' " said Allen. "Why would anyone purchase our recipes when they can simply pick up a phone and get them from a family member for free?"
Initial Wave of Baseball Card Lawsuits Targets Youths
Salt Lake City - In what Topps Company Inc. calls the first phase of a nationwide effort to curb unregulated trading, 14 Salt Lake City middle-school students were charged with illegally marketing and merchandising baseball cards yesterday. The suit seeks $110 million in damages, reflecting losses from "localized devaluation" of specific cards. "These kids are making arbitrary decisions of value and distribution," said Topps counsel Robert Schulz. "Who's to say a 1989 Don Mattingly isn't worth a 1992 Jose Canseco?" Topps claims that card swappers have long operated a widespread underground network; the Salt Lake suit focuses on "one local trading ring."
"Bible Battle" Lawsuit Pitches Catholic Church Against Gideons
New York - Implicating The Gideons International in nearly 33 million separate cases of "clandestine Bible distribution," the Vatican and the Catholic Church filed federal charges against the organization Thursday. Hours later, His Holiness John Paul II issued a statement through the Office of the Holy See claiming, "Each free Bible usurps the Church, and in turn the religious process—from priest to community—toward enlightenment." Gideon spokesman Keith Chartier characterized the suit as an attempt to route more worshippers into churches, boosting lagging collections. "This is David versus Goliath," he said. "We will continue to bring free Bibles to the masses."
Moviegoers Booted From Theater for Sharing Popcorn
Nashville, TN - Local residents Jane and Chris Fisher were escorted from the Loews Super-18 Cineplex last night after sharing a bag of popcorn. The incident occurred 10 minutes into the 10 p.m. showing of The Matrix Reloaded. A theater manager who refused to give his name explained that the two customers had been sharing a "small" bag of popcorn. "The small-size popcorn is intended for one serving size," the man stated. "These individuals were violating those guidelines." While executives at Loews' corporate offices would not comment specifically, spokeswoman Michelle Gusman referred reporters to a cost-analysis report of shared-popcorn losses in the previous fiscal year.
California Leads Delegation Against Photographers of Sunset
Sacramento, CA - In what may become a landmark case in copyright infringement and air rights law, the state of California, together with Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, filed suit against 260 million American citizens today for possessing what they claim are "exclusive property of the West Coast Air Rights Delegation." The photographs, nearly all depicting sunsets, are commonplace in homes across the nation. While the delegation would not comment on details of how defendants' addresses were obtained, the suit follows an outcry by thousands of one-hour photo shops across the country upon being subpoenaed to provide customer addresses last month.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.