RIAA Still Suing, Will Warn File Traders

Despite criticism of its technical and legal tactics, the Recording Industry Association of America is continuing its campaign of lawsuits against individual Internet file traders accused of copyright infringement.

Opponents of the strategy, which so far has consisted of nearly 1,500 subpoenas and 261 lawsuits, claimed a victory when the RIAA agreed it would inform potential targets that they might be sued. But the recording industry’s tracking of alleged music thieves on file-sharing networks — such as Kazaa and Gnutella — was criticized for its likelihood of producing false positives.

RIAA spokesperson Jonathan Lamy told TechNewsWorld that the organization has “a thorough and comprehensive process” for ensuring the information it gathers on accused file swappers is accurate. He also indicated the RIAA is continuing to acquire evidence and is planning more litigation.

“There will be more lawsuits, and they’ll happen in October sometime,” Lamy said. “As we are working on current cases, we are gathering more evidence for the purpose of filing more lawsuits.”

Hearings Bring Notification

Committee hearings in the U.S. Senate have resulted in the RIAA’s agreement to send a letter encouraging settlement discussions to computer users who may be the subject of lawsuits. Lamy, who reported that 52 of the RIAA’s 261 lawsuits have been settled, said that “it seemed appropriate to give advance notification to someone being sued.”

A spokesperson for Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota) — who called for this week’s hearings — said the senator was pleased by discussion between the two sides on the Internet music-trading issue. However, Coleman is still seeking a solution other than litigation.

“He doesn’t feel that that’s the answer,” Coleman spokesperson Andy Brehm told TechNewsWorld. “He wants to find a way to avoid these massive, wide-sweeping lawsuits.”

Default Denounced

In addition to indicating its intention to file more lawsuits against individual file traders accused of substantial copyright infringement, the RIAA called on peer-to-peer (P2P) network operators to implement reforms voluntarily.

Among the top requests was for P2P networks to change default settings so that the uploading of music from users’ hard drives is not automatic. Other suggestions involved implementing filters to block uploading of copyrighted material and notifying users that trading copyrighted material without permission is illegal.

GartnerG2 research director Mike McGuire told TechNewsWorld that although changing the default settings may be a bargaining chip and a way to buy time for the P2P purveyors, leaving them as they are now could prove to be more useful when the files involved are not illegal.

“As a legal matter, it will be up to a judge to determine whether there is substantial, noninfringing use,” McGuire said, referring to appellate cases between the RIAA and P2P operators.

Tracking Attacked

While the dismissal of an RIAA suit last week drew concerns over the group’s technical tracking of alleged copyright infringers, the process — whereby the RIAA captures Internet addresses associated with the trading of copyrighted material — was touted as a legal defense against the industry organization.

An anonymous RIAA document posted to the Internet — and reportedly validated by some experts — refers to modified search results, spoofed addresses, renamed files, impersonation and other tactics that could result in RIAA accusations against innocent users.

“It is possible for an attacker to exploit both the underlying design of P2P networks as well as implementation flaws in P2P applications in order to implicate another P2P user in behaviour (sic) deemed unacceptable by the authorities,” the document said.

However, the RIAA’s Lamy said the group has confidence in its evidence-gathering procedure and has several safeguards in place to ensure the information collected is accurate.

RIAA Arms Race

However, GartnerG2’s McGuire said the increasing technical difficulty of correctly identifying the right P2P users is the reason why the RIAA made a concession with the advanced notification.

“It’s going to be an ongoing battle for them to make sure their tools are as accurate as possible,” McGuire said. “They realize it’s going to be increasingly difficult for them to identify over time.”

He added that although the RIAA has technology companies it can rely on to keep up with the changing technology of P2P networking, the recording industry is failing to leverage the “amazing power” of Internet file sharing.

“They have to figure out how to take advantage [of] rather than fight [P2P networks],” McGuire said. “If they continue fighting, it will be an arms race, and nobody wins.”

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