An Early Christmas Gift From The RIAA

In a move that is a bit of a surprise (to me, at least), the Recording Industry Association of America has announced that it’s moving on from its strategy of using the legal system to crack down on those people sharing music from member labels. After 35,000 lawsuits since 2003, what changed?

While the organization might disagree, there’s not much question in the outside world that the lawsuits were a PR nightmare that did little to actually deter illegal downloading, instead just encouraging Internet types to get a little savvier (and more self-righteous) about it. After all, most surveys show that the percentage of people downloading music hasn’t changed, but the volume of files shared has increased rapidly. Even the Wall Street Journal article today about the change went after the common shots against the actions, stating that the “lawsuits targeted, among others, several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl.”

Despite my general tendency to say that everything the organization does is foolish and misguided, this new program seems remarkably fair. After all, most people would still agree there’s something wrong about sharing other people’s copywritten music, right?

Instead, the Recording Industry Association of America said it plans to try an approach that relies on the cooperation of Internet-service providers. The trade group said it has hashed out preliminary agreements with major ISPs under which it will send an email to the provider when it finds a provider’s customers making music available online for others to take.

Depending on the agreement, the ISP will either forward the note to customers, or alert customers that they appear to be uploading music illegally, and ask them to stop. If the customers continue the file-sharing, they will get one or two more emails, perhaps accompanied by slower service from the provider. Finally, the ISP may cut off their access altogether.

The RIAA said it has agreements in principle with some ISPs, but declined to say which ones. But ISPs, which are increasingly cutting content deals of their own with entertainment companies, may have more incentive to work with the music labels now than in previous years.

I suppose my question is, in areas with multiple high-speed internet providers, would a shutdown notice even work? It wouldn’t be terribly difficult to move from cable to DSL or in reverse, if you happened to get to the point that your ISP would take that action. The biggest threat would likely to be to college students who might be scared straight by a notice from the university that their access might be cut off. There’s still an opportunity for these notices, even in their mildest warning level, to be sent to the wrong parties considering that the same RIAA that tried to sue a dead person is the source of the information (and it should be noted, the organization isn’t giving up on litigation altogether, just limited it to the most egregious cases), but thankfully, a terse e-mail is a less ominous mistake to endure than a court summons.

Music Industry to Abandon Mass Suits [Wall Street Journal]

  • NoOneCaresAboutYourFuckingBlog

    Can oligopolies even deny you service? I think they can get in trouble with the FCC for this.

  • revmatty

    I think if they provided you with basic phone service they would be meeting their obligation as far as the FCC is concerned.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been rattling my saber at the RIAA for nigh unto three decades now, and I find it hard to swallow anything that they put forward in a press release. While they say that they’re moving away from suing the consumers that pay their salaries in favor of working with ISPs to solve the problem of music downloading, they’re trying to fix the game behind the scene with draconian legislation in Congress.

    Methinks that instead the RIAA and its masters, the Four Families of the recording industry, should get over their nearly ten-year-old obsession with music downloading and start coming up with ways to actually sell something that the music consumer wants to buy! Start by releasing better music and move towards the future from there….

  • dsven

    @Rev.Keith: Agree with you on most points except the “Start by releasing better music”…I find points like that are always bandied about, but what does it actually mean?

    Never mind the fact that “good” is entirely subjective, but do you really think if record companies release fewer stereotypically “bad” releases by Nickelback, Britney et al, and start releasing more “good” albums by Fleet Foxes, Robyn, etc, that people will be more compelled to buy rather than download illegally?

    I’d venture to say that the ratio of stolen:purchased music for both “good” and “bad” artists is pretty similar.

  • Anonymous

    @dsven: agreed, there are few arguments that could convince me that people will once again start paying for something they can get for free. while the labels could definitely work on new ways of leveraging the intellectual property they own, and finding out how people value music and how they can channel that in to their bank accounts, it’s real easy to say that when we all know what we spent on music this past year versus 1998.

    point is, getting it for free is illegal, though probably about as much as shoplifting some cheap earrings from a department store, that is not enough to get you thrown in jail or fined $200,000, but i’d say enough that if you got caught by mall security, you may think twice next time.

    next step is the RIAA realizing that second thought is all they can realistically hope to achieve at this point… hey we can all dream can’t we?

  • bburl

    It is possible that the music industry will survive, just like the auto makers. But there will be downsizing and a shifting of focus. Until there is new technology to police people (and don’t we all look forward to that 1984), the halcion days of the 80′s and 90′s are gone forever. Just as GM will be around in some form or another, prolly smaller and more concentrated, so too will the music business. The contraction of sales will not continue forever, even if illegal downloading is common practise. There are many revenue streams, and you can have value added content on music purchases to encourage people to buy. Like the 13th Floor Elevators have a lavish box set coming out with a full sized book and great packaging. There are going to be a lot of people who will want to own it even if they could get the music for free.