For the London Free Press – Nov 3, 2008
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently marked the five-year anniversary of the Recording Industry of America’s (RIAA) mass litigation campaign to curtail music piracy on the Internet by releasing a comprehensive review.
The EFF report (available at eff.org) concluded that the campaign was harmful to music fans and artists alike, but has done little to slow unauthorized file-sharing.
The report notes growing skepticism by academics, watchdog groups and most importantly by the courts about the RIAA’s investigation and strong arm enforcement tactics. The RIAA has sued or threatened to sue almost 30,000 people for file sharing.
The RIAA’s “making available” theory has been rejected by many courts, which denounces the notion that merely having a music file in a “shared” folder on a computer, which may never get copied, constitutes copyright infringement. The EFF’s report suggests the policing campaign has simply taught people to choose to share files in ways that are harder to monitor — such as burning and exchanging CDs and MP3s among friends.
Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing is more popular than ever, comprising 45 per cent of Internet traffic and has become a fact of Internet life as P2P popularity has continued to grow yearly.
The main critique of the policing campaign has been that it arbitrarily punishes tens of thousands of people for what tens of millions are doing and barely puts any money in the pockets of artists.
American music fans who have been sued for sharing songs on P2P file sharing networks include children, grandparents, unemployed single mothers and college professors. These individuals are the best customers the music industry has.
New lawsuits are filed monthly and are supplemented by a flood of “pre-litigation” settlement letters designed to extract settlements without the need to enter the courtroom. The RIAA has done away with the court system by threatening individuals with expensive litigation and unfavourable outcomes that leaves a lay person with no alternative but to settle for amounts ranging from $3,000 to $11,000.
An example cited by the RFF of where the disproportionate amount of punishment has had devastating consequences include a single mother who thought she was legally downloading 24 songs with her daughter who was sued for $500,000 and settled for $4,000.
Another example is a student who attempted to negotiate a settlement with the RIAA and explained that she was already in debt to cover her tuition and could not pay any amounts. In response the RIAA representative suggested she drop out of school in order to pay the settlement.
It has become evident that suing music fans is no solution to the P2P problem. The RIAA frequently justifies the lawsuit campaign as the most effective way to get music fans to understand that downloading is illegal and can have serious consequences. The policing campaign has failed however to curtail P2P downloading and has not persuaded music fans that sharing is equivalent to shoplifting.
It is evident that people are going to share music using whatever software they like on whatever computer platform they prefer, regardless of the RIAA’s efforts.