The Ongoing, Pointless Quest of the RIAA

The Recording Industry Association of America wants to sue another 493 innocent people for sharing music online — “innocent” because not one of the people pilloried so far by the RIAA has been found guilty of anything, because not one of them has ever appeared before a judge.

“The trade group [the RIAA] which represents the five largest recording companies, has settled more than 400 of those cases for around US$3,000 each,” said a recent Reuters story.

The last “A” in RIAA stands for America, yet only Warner Music, one of the five firms that keep the RIAA in business, is actually American. The others are Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music Group (France), Bertelsmann AG’s BMG (Germany), EMI Group’s EMI (UK) and Sony’s Sony Music (Japan).

In the meantime, $3,000 settlements are at the low end of the lawsuit spectrum. Some “payments” have been for considerably more than $10,000, and the term “settled” in this case means that the RIAA, in effect, makes victims an offer they can’t refuse. And its victims always pay.

Ordinary People

The RIAA victims are ordinary men, women and children, and rather than chance the huge financial penalties that losing to Big Music’s limitless resources and expert legal teams inevitably would entail, they always settle out of court.

“The RIAA does not yet know the identities of those it targeted in its latest round of lawsuits but plans to discover them through court-issued subpoenas,” said the Reuters story.

Until fairly recently, the RIAA used what had amounted to a loophole in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act — which it had inspired in the first place — to force ISPs into revealing client names.

Then the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals decided that file-sharing wasn’t an issue when the 1998 DMCA came into force. The Court of Appeals also decided that the RIAA’s efforts to subpoena the names and addresses of ISP Verizon’s customers were therefore unlawful.

Consequently, these days, the RIAA has to follow due process — like everyone else.

The Latest Victims

While nobody has yet gone to court, several of the latest victims have refused to settle, unlike their predecessors. Those twenty-four people are being sued by name after the RIAA discovered their identities through John Doe suits.

In any case, it would seem the lawsuits aren’t having much of an effect in real terms.

While the music industry claims its “sue-’em-all” campaign is dramatically reducing the number of file-sharers, and while Apple boasts people downloaded 70 million files from its iTunes Music Store in its first year, over 4 million people are online at any given moment uploading, downloading or sharing 1 billion files every month.

Nor is the music industry’s contention accurate that file-sharing is “devastating” the multibillion-dollar music industry, as the Canadian Recording Industry Association states.

Analysis Techniques Vary

The music industry’s statistical analysis techniques seem to vary depending on the state of the moon. Be that as it may, in March, in the music industry’s celebrated “The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis,” Felix Oberholzer and Koleman Strumpf revealed the following:

“Downloads have an effect on sales which is statistically indistinguishable from zero, despite rather precise estimates. Moreover, these estimates are of moderate economic significance and are inconsistent with claims that file-sharing is the primary reason for the recent decline in music sales.”

This could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Jon Newton, a TechNewsWorld columnist, founded and runs, a daily peer-to-peer and digital media news site focused on issues surrounding file-sharing, the entertainment industry and distributed computing. p2pnet is based in Canada where sharing music online is legal.

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