RIAA changes tactics against illegal downloaders

23 Gen RIAA changes tactics against illegal downloaders

Virginia Tech Collegiate Times Online, By Justin Graves, January 22, 2009
The Recording Industry Association of America received much publicity in late December when it decided to search for more effective ways to curtail illegal music downloading. The decision represents a great departure for the association, which has spent the last five years opening legal cases against tens of thousands of defendants. Using a company called MediaSentry to target people who upload large amounts of music, at least 35,000 people have faced lawsuits from the RIAA since 2003. It previously used the popular peer-to-peer program LimeWire to search for copyrighted song titles.   After receiving scrutiny from many groups that claimed their methods were unnecessary, excessive and an invasion of privacy, the RIAA began to pursue a new technique to catch those who illegally share files, but without all of the examination from the media and home-based interest groups. “I think the RIAA believes it made huge strides in public awareness with its lawsuit campaign, but they think that it is the right time to change tracks,” said Sarah McBride, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal who has covered the RIAA. “It doesn’t seem like they view their changed policy as a sign of failure, although plenty of critics do.” The old approach that the RIAA used consisted of two different types of communication with university officials: Digital Millennium Copyright Act notices and pre-litigation letters. Now, only DMCA notices are sent.  The recipient of this notice has been caught uploading one or more files illegally. The RIAA then follows up with the university to ensure the infringing material was removed from the network. While the pre-litigation letters made it clear that it was the beginning stages of a lawsuit, the new notices make it clear that they are a DMCA letter. The new approach is more dependent upon the cooperation of individual Internet service providers, or ISPs. They will now ask providers such as Verizon, Comcast, AOL or universities, to issue warnings to their customers who are suspected of illegally downloading files to which they do not own the copyright. Warnings range from slower Internet service to verbal or e-mail warnings.  From there, the ISP has the option of cutting off the Internet access without reimbursement and reporting this individual to the RIAA. However, not all ISP providers have agreed to these new methods; the RIAA would not comment on which have or have not.  As noted in a recent “facts” document released by the RIAA, the association and several leading ISPs across the nation reached a confidential agreement on the standards outlining this new “graduated response program,” which is intended to help decrease all of this copyright infringement. “Relative to litigation, a graduated response program is far less blunt, far more efficient and, we believe, ultimately far more effective to protect the property rights of the music community,” said RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol. Many detractors of the RIAA say that departure from this strategy is because of its ineffectiveness. After numerous lawsuits against teenagers, including several groups of college students, the RIAA came under constant fire from the media and parents who contested the goal behind their methods. “We are delighted that circumstances have evolved to the point where we could transition from lawsuits to these ISP graduated response programs,” Bainwol said. “Already, in just the last couple of months, we have seen more notices forwarded from ISPs to subscribers than we filed lawsuits over the previous five years.” While critics are happy to see a departure from the policy that has reigned over the past five years, the RIAA said that, in retrospect, it definitely caused a cutback in piracy. Overall, on average, about 19 percent of all Internet users download files illegally. However, music downloaded legally and the revenue from those transactions has seen a large increase. “Digital revenues in 2004 totaled about $180 million.  For 2008, they will approach $3 billion, or about 30 percent of our total revenues,” Bainwol said. “And while the marketplace is dominated still by the download model (especially iTunes), consumers enjoy phenomenal choice — subscriptions, advertising-based legal peer to peer, streaming services, mobile music and on and on.”