In the past few years, record companies have sued more than 20,000 people for illegally downloading music. It's the industry's don't-fuck-with-me way of ramming a lesson down America's throat. It's also turned into a nice way to make some extra scratch at a time when music sales are slumping.
So far, the companies have enjoyed a free cash grab, because no one's challenged them in court. With deep pockets on their side, the record companies have been forcing plaintiffs to settle, lest they face crippling debt.
Now, Minneapolis attorney Brian Toder is trying to put a big dent in the company's lawyer-plated armor. In a Duluth courthouse this week, he's defending a woman accused of illegally downloading several hundred songs. If the case goes to jury, it will be the first of its kind to do so and could set a precedent.
Toder thinks it's been a long time coming. "Their motto is same as Soldier of Fortune magazine," he says of the record company's approach to suing customers. "Kill them all and let God sort them out." —Jonathan Kaminsky
Where simple cruelty begins
The Animal Rights Legal Defense fund is suing Land O'Lakes, alleging that the St. Paul butter company is in bed with the dairy equivalent of Michael Vick.
At issue is the treatment of baby calves at Mendes Calf Ranch, in Tipton, California. The ARLDF charges that the young cows are kept in filthy pens so tiny that they can't lie down to sleep. "It's like a nightmare kind of boarding school for baby cows before they go on to be milk producers for Land O'Lakes," says Lisa Franzetta, communications director for the ARLDF.
Land O'Lakes doesn't contract directly with Mendes, but utilizes suppliers that work with the farm. The ARLDF hopes to convince Land O'Lakes and Challenge Dairy to exert pressure on dairy operations to scrap such practices. As of last week, nearly 20,000 people had signed an online petition (www.freebabymendes.com) directed at the two companies.
Last year the ARLDF filed a lawsuit against Mendes Calf Ranch alleging that the farm was violating state laws preventing animal cruelty. The case, however, was dismissed after a judge ruled that the nonprofit group lacked standing to bring the suit. That issue is now on appeal. —Paul Demko
Ph.D. in personal finance
The next time you see a college student, buy her a drink for putting our fine state on the map. A report just released by the Project on Student Debt ranks the graduating seniors of Minnesota's public and private colleges among the highest in the country for average debt burden carried into that jungle we call the "real world."
According to the study, 72 percent of Minnesota grads have student loan debt when they collect their cap and gown, and they owe an average of $23,000 each. That percentage won Minnesota the bronze medal for proportion of college students graduating with debt. Damn you, South Dakota and New Mexico (82 percent and 76 percent respectively)—we'll get you next year.
If you are looking to celebrate this news, expect the best parties at the art schools. At St. Paul's College of Visual Arts, students are leaving with an average debt of $48,926. At the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the average graduate load is $41,153.
Across the country, the Project on Student Debt reports that the average debt for graduating seniors in the United States went up 8 percent in the last year, while starting salaries rose roughly 4 percent. So don't expect much from these kids now that they are free from the shackles of campus leisure. They've busted their humps making Minnesota what it is and now they must rest—at one of their three jobs. —Jeff Severns Guntzel
Press release: City Pages intern named Strib ombudsmanMINNEAPOLIS — City Pages is pleased to announce that Matt Snyders has been hired by the Star Tribune to serve as the new reader's representative. Starting next week, Snyders, a 23-year-old City Pages fellow, will take calls and letters from concerned readers and attempt to sympathize with their grievances. The position opened up when longtime reader's representative Kate Parry was reassigned to the position of healthcare editor. The unorthodox decision to tap a green reporter from a competing publication was evidently made in light of the recent financial woes endured by the daily. "Matt Snyders's proven track record of taking odd jobs with little to no pay is consistent with the Star Tribune's goal of providing local news on the cheap," said Strib managing editor Scott Gillespie.
Snyders—who honed his work-for-no-pay skills as Jann Wenner's cashew-fetcher while interning at Rolling Stone—seemed excited by the new opportunity. "It's a perfect match," he shrugged. "They're a paper struggling to stay afloat in a cutthroat industry, and I'm an inexperienced quasi-slave willing to do anything to get a leg up." Added Snyders: "You need anything? A coffee or something?" Concerned Strib readers can call the new reader's representative with questions at 612.372.3722 or email them to [email protected].