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Friday, December 19, 2008

RIAA Announces Plan to End Lawsuits

After years of suing thousands of people for allegedly stealing music via the Internet, the recording industry is set to drop its legal assault as it searches for more effective ways to combat online music piracy.

The decision represents an abrupt shift of strategy for the industry, which has opened legal proceedings against about 35,000 people since 2003. Critics say the legal offensive ultimately did little to stem the tide of illegally downloaded music. And it created a public-relations disaster for the industry, whose lawsuits targeted, among others, several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl.

Instead, the Recording Industry Association of America said it plans to try an approach that relies on the cooperation of Internet-service providers. The trade group said it has hashed out preliminary agreements with major ISPs under which it will send an email to the provider when it finds a provider's customers making music available online for others to take.

I'm not sure if this is good news or not. While I'm glad to hear that they aren't planning on suing anyone besides heavy file sharers, I think it's bad for internet users in general. Having the RIAA team up with ISP's in an effort to stem copyright infringement opens the door for the RIAA to become even more heavy handed by circumventing the courts all together. Look how long it took for someone to actually take the RIAA to full trial. Only then did their tactics unravel and the holes in their plans become obvious. 

I think, as many others do, that letting the ISP's become content police is horrible. Should the US Postal Service be allowed to open the mail of people who have a high volume of mail? Should the postal service be inspecting every package to make sure people aren't sending anything illegal. Just because a package weighs 2.2 pounds, doesn't mean it's likely a kilo of cocaine or heroin. It certainly wouldn't be sufficient grounds for a search. 

Another question that comes to mind is why would the ISP's want this role? What's in it for them? Perhaps they envision enough of a drop in traffic (from throttling bit torrent etc) where they could further put off investing money into infrastructure that can handle the huge increase in traffic created by video, voip and file-sharing. 

The more likely scenario is that it's easier to play ball with the RIAA than it is to defend a huge lawsuit that challenges the "safe harbour" laws that protect them. One would think that the ISP's would want to remain neutral and not have the added expense of filtering and throttling. It seems like the RIAA is trying to put the ISP's directly in the crosshairs of consumer ire. Any way you look at it, this can't be a good deal for the ISP's bottom line.
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