An Early Christmas Gift From The RIAA

Dan Gibson | December 19, 2008 - 10:45 am

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]