The Electronic Frontier Foundation has put together a fascinating article summarizing the history and effect of the RIAA’s five-year battle against online music sharing. The conclusion is compelling: every single move made by the recording industry has backfired. The RIAA has filed more than thirty thousand lawsuits and threatened even more people, turning public opinion overwhelmingly against the RIAA and the labels, and has accomplished nothing.
“The RIAA’s lawsuit campaign against individual American music fans has failed. It has failed to curtail P2P downloading. It has not persuaded music fans that sharing is equivalent to shoplifting. It has not put a penny into the pockets of artists. It has done little to drive most filesharers into the arms of authorized music services. In fact, the RIAA lawsuits may well be driving filesharers to new technologies that will be much harder for the RIAA’s investigators to infiltrate and monitor.”
Public respect for copyright law has plummeted and the use of peer-to-peer file sharing programs has soared in the last five years, in large part due to the unforgivable tactics used by the recording industry. Currently the RIAA is openly engaged in protection racket shakedowns: it sends “pre-litigation settlement offers” to students, offering to take a few thousand dollars in exchange for not filing a lawsuit. It has set up a web site, http://www.P2Plawsuits.com, where the payment can be made by credit card. (When one student attempted to negotiate the proposed $3,750 settlement because she was already in debt for tuition, the RIAA representative suggested that she drop out of school in order to pay off the settlement.)
The EFF article focuses on the procedural aspects of the RIAA lawsuits, with detailed information about the various tactics used over the years by the RIAA to obtain the names and addresses of alleged offenders. When you share files with a P2P program, your IP address might be visible but only your ISP can tie that IP address to your account. The RIAA exploited a loophole in the DMCA to issue thousands of subpoenas to ISPs before any lawsuit had been filed; eventually the courts rejected the industry’s interpretation of the law (referred to somewhat proudly by the industry as “driftnet fishing), but not until more than 3,000 subpoenas had been issued, followed by hundreds of lawsuits and many more settlements. The RIAA then began filing massive numbers of John Doe lawsuits, and more recently has tried to intimidate colleges into voluntarily forwarding the threatening pre-litigation letters to students.
Perhaps the RIAA are not the worst and stupidest people in the world – there’s a lot of competition for that title – but I think they would make it into the finals, anyway.