A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

FAIL: RIAA’s Legal Campaign

Techdirt reports that the EFF’s recent writeup of the RIAA’s legal efforts against file-sharers (dubbed the “Sue-Everyone” strategy) has been a near-total failure.

It started with suing technology providers. All that did was make more people aware of file sharing. When it succeeded in getting Napster shut down, plenty of others showed up that were much more difficult to shut down. So, then, the RIAA shifted to suing individuals accused of unauthorized sharing, claiming that it was an “education campaign” to teach people that unauthorized file sharing was illegal. All that’s done is turn many more people against the RIAA, while continuing to educate them that file sharing exists. In fact, many more people engage in file sharing now than five years ago when the campaign started. 

Wait just a minute… I’m skeptical that the RIAA’s efforts led to more piracy simply by making consumers aware that file-sharing exists. This weak point smells of intellectual or argumentative laziness. Guess what else is more common today than it was five years ago? High-speed internet access, mp3 players, multiple PCs per household, and digital media in general. But I digress…

So, effectively, the lawsuits haven’t worked (the RIAA has not had a full trial turn out in its favor yet). It’s turned public opinion massively against the RIAA and its associated record labels. It hasn’t done anything to slow down unauthorized file sharing, and may have actually helped promote it. About the only “success” of the strategy is that it’s turned into something of a cash generator for the RIAA, by frightening people, with strong legal language around flimsy evidence, into paying “presettlements” to avoid being sued.

Well, I do hate the RIAA. And I do know of a few people who’ve been frightened into using iTunes exclusively (or they may have been persuaded by the hipster-appeal of Apple’s iPod+iTunes ad campaign – so many colors to express your unique personality!). Regardless, the RIAA’s failure has little to do with it’s negative press, and much more to do with the current legal interpretation of intellectual property vs. fair use. While I’m no expert in IP law, I’m convinced that the changing music marketplace will lead to more opportunities for entrepreneurial musicians to find profits by adopting a new business model (a la Radiohead, although that’s certainly not the only model).

We’re entering a new age in entertainment that may not support monolithic organizations like the RIAA much longer. Soon enough, they’ll need musicians more than the musicians will need them. If you think it’s bad now, just imagine the amount of rent-seeking that will be going on then!


Filed under: Economics, Internet, Tech Biz, , , , ,

One Response

  1. We have all read the stories of parents sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars because their teenage children file swapped music over the internet. In many cases, the parents were bullied into settlement, even though they may not have been guilty of anything. Over 35,000 individuals were sued for sharing music in violation of copyright law. The government should have ended this travesty a long time ago, but our political leaders are in the RIAA’s pocket for campaign donations. This list includes Barack Obama. I wish I could tell you the RIAA had come to their senses and realized the unfairness of what they were doing, but I can’t. They are stopping because it isn’t profitable any more.

    Music industry drops effort to sue song swappers
    The Associated Press

    The group representing the U.S. recording industry said Friday it had abandoned its policy of suing people for sharing songs protected by copyright.

    The Recording Industry Association of America said it instead would work with Internet service providers to cut abusers’ access if they ignored repeated warnings.

    The move ends a program that saw the association sue about 35,000 people since 2003 for swapping songs online. Because of high legal costs for defenders, virtually all of those hit with lawsuits settled, on average, for around $3,500. The association’s legal costs, in the meantime, exceeded the settlement money it brought in.

    The association said Friday it stopped sending out new lawsuits and warnings in August and then agreed with several leading U.S. Internet service providers, without naming which ones, to notify alleged illegal file-sharers and cut off service if they failed to stop. Full story here.

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Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.
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