Friday, December 19, 2008


CNET - The music industry's highly controversial strategy of suing customers for file sharing has mostly ended. The Recording Industry Association of America said Friday that it no longer plans to wage a legal assault against people who it suspects of pirating digital music files. What the RIAA should have said, though, is that it won't go after most people who illegally file share. My music industry sources say that the RIAA will continue to file lawsuits against the most egregious offenders--the person who "downloads 5,000 or 6,000 songs a month is still going to get sued," a source at a major record company told me.

The strategy of suing music fans has long been criticized by artists, consumers, and even some record-label executives. Critics have said it alienates music buyers and more importantly has been ineffectual. Now, the music industry has a new form of protection: Internet service providers.

According to a story in The Wall Street Journal, which broke the news about the RIAA's new strategy, unidentified Internet service providers have agreed to "reduce the service," to chronic file-sharers. Exactly what a reduction of service may include isn't specified, but a source close to the situation said that none of the ISPs have agreed to limit a user's bandwidth, a practice known as throttling.

The way the new enforcement system will work is that the RIAA will alert an ISP that a customer appears to be file sharing. The ISP will then notify the person that he or she appears to be file sharing. If the behavior by the customer doesn't change, then more e-mails will be sent. If the customer ignores these e-mails, then the ISP may choose to suspend the person's service. If all else fails, they can choose to discontinue service.

Under the plan, which was brokered by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the music industry will not know the customer's identity. What this means is that ISPs have now gone into the enforcement business, and this has always been one of the greatest fears of those who have wanted ISPs to remain neutral.

"This is very troubling," said Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates for Internet rights. "Creating lists of people who can't get Internet access based on allegations of breaking a law that hasn't been evaluated in a court of law. It's good that that the (RIAA) wants to stop suing individuals but they should haven't done it in the first place. I'd be especially concerned if the music labels can get you kicked off one ISP and then arrange to get you kicked off others, or the creation of blacklists. That's certainly what our fears have been about private legal enforcement regimen."

According to most of the data, the lawsuits didn't prevent illegal file sharing from growing. At the same time, the strategy also alienated scores of potential music buyers.


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