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Class Action Challenges Theft of Millions of Digital Music Files from Florida Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

A class-action lawsuit accuses the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) of confiscating prisoners’ “lawfully purchased property without compensation” so the department and its vendor, JPay, could realize profit through a new contract. 

The suit concerns prisoners’ loss of music files accessible only via their MP3 and MP4 players, in order to allow a new tablet program to go into effect.

In 2011, the FDOC entered into a contract with Access Corrections that let prisoners purchase music players and digital songs. The players cost $99.95 for 4MB storage capacity or $119.95 for an 8MB player. The songs cost $1.70 each, and prisoners were required to buy them in lots of five. The contract with Access ended in April 2017, netting the FDOC around $1.4 million in commissions from 6.7 million digital song purchases.

A “widely-distributed advertisement” promised prisoners who bought the MP3 and MP4 players that, “Once music is purchased, you’ll always own it!” They were told they could buy as many songs as they wanted and store them on a “cloud-based library” by deleting or adding songs to their player by connecting to a kiosk.

Then, in April 2017, the FDOC terminated its contract with Access, which is owned by the Keefe Commissary Network, and implemented a Multimedia Tablet Program through a new contract with JPay. Under that program, prisoners were required to surrender their music players when receiving a tablet, or by January 23, 2019 in any event, and were not allowed to keep the players or any of the digital songs they had bought. [See: PLN, Feb. 2019, p.26].

The FDOC formulated a standard response to grievances filed on this issue. “It is unfortunate that the music cannot be transferred, however, we hope that overtime [sic] the family and inmate will see added value of the new program.” The inability to transfer songs from the Access music players to the JPay tablets was “necessary” to allow “the new vendor’s ability to be compensated for their services,” prison officials stated.

The lawsuit, filed on February 19, 2019, alleges violations of due process and the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment; it seeks injunctive relief to restore access to the prisoners’ previously purchased digital music. The proposed class members are represented by attorneys with the Florida Justice Institute and the Social Justice Law Collective. See: Demler v. Inch, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Fla.), Case No. 4:19-cv-00094-RH-GRJ. 

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Related legal case

Demler v. Inch