The Recording Industry Association of America pushed forward with its campaign to sue illegal music file-traders this week, piling on another 41 suits in the third wave of legal action aimed at those who share music files over peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.
The industry group that represents the world’s major recording labels touted the success of and support for its “education and enforcement campaign,” which has equated to more than 1,500 subpoenas, 382 lawsuits and 220 settlements.
“The legal actions taken by the record companies have been effective in educating the American public that illegal file-sharing of copyrighted material has significant consequences,” said RIAA president Cary Sherman in a statement.
Citing a November survey that shows a two-to-one margin of those “supportive and understanding” of the industry’s strategy, the RIAA also said public backing for its copyright enforcement is growing — a claim strongly refuted by Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman.
“I don’t think there’s any public support for what they’ve done — none, zero, zip,” Goodman said. “There may be a begrudging understanding, but I don’t think there is a lot of support for them outside of the record labels.”
Numbers Up, Severity Down
Forecasting the likelihood of even more lawsuits to come with the announcement of 90 notification letters also sent this week, the RIAA has indicated the lawsuits will be ongoing. RIAA spokesperson Amanda Collins told TechNewsWorld that the first few rounds of lawsuits have been aimed at the worst file-trading offenders.
While he expressed doubt about public support for the lawsuit campaign, Goodman said the RIAA’s strategy has been successful in making more people, particularly parents, aware that unlicensed music trading is illegal.
Goodman said the RIAA also has succeeded in driving casual illegal downloaders to the many legitimate services and in forcing hard-core downloaders to curtail their illegal file-trading activities.
The RIAA also cited research from Nielsen//NetRatings that indicates traffic on illegal P2P network sites is down, while traffic to legitimate services is up.
“Consumers are increasingly attracted to the host of compelling legal online music alternatives,” said the RIAA’s Sherman. “These lawsuits help to foster an environment that provides a level playing field for these services to succeed.”
Goodman, who reported a recent 20 to 30 percent drop in unlicensed downloading, credited the combination of the RIAA legal strategy and the offering of legitimate alternatives for the shift away from unlicensed services.
Still, Goodman pointed to challenges for the recording industry — which primarily will entail allowing legitimate service users to share music freely — and said the free services are likely to remain significant sources of online music.
“I think in five years, 20 to 25 percent of music downloads will still be through unlicensed services,” he said.
There was confusion over at least one of the alleged P2P offenders named in the RIAA’s last round of 80 lawsuits, launched in late October. A 79-year-old Washington man was sued despite not owning a computer, according to published reports.
Although the man’s son reportedly added high-speed Internet to his father’s cable service, it remains unclear whether the RIAA targeted the right individual. The industry group, which uses captured Internet Protocol (IP) sessions to track and identify alleged violators, has said it is suing Internet service account holders and has displayed little concern over whether they are in fact the file-traders.
Considering the RIAA’s process, Yankee’s Goodman said a single incorrect digit in a long IP address could foul the tracking and lead the RIAA to the wrong person. The first round of RIAA lawsuits included a case that was eventually dismissed by the RIAA after a 66-year-old woman was accused of downloading and sharing rap music using Kazaa. The woman, it turned out, owned a Mac computer, which is not compatible with Kazaa applications.
“Fundamentally, there’s no way they can avoid incorrectly suing people,” Goodman said. “They’re not going to be able to avoid that. It’s a fundamental drawback to their plan.”