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The price of the Internet

Posted in Uncategorized by mrochele on December 21, 2008

Illegal downloaders no longer face suits, may lose online access instead

Jammie Thomas, left, who accused by the recording industry of sharing music online in violation of copyrights, with her lawyer Brian Toder, talk outside the Federal Courthouse in Duluth, Minn., Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2007. Thomas, a 30-year-old mother of two, is the first of 26,000 people sued by the industry whose case has gone to trial. An industry group and three recording companies claim she illegally offered 1,702 songs for free on a file-sharing network. Collapse (Bob King, Duluth News Tribune/AP Photo)

Jammie Thomas, left, who was accused by the RIAA of sharing music online in violation of copyrights, with her lawyer, talk outside the Federal Courthouse in Duluth, Minn., on Oct. 2, 2007. Thomas, a 30-year-old mother of two, became the first of the then 26,000 people sued by the industry to bring a case to trial. Initially she was found liable to pay $222,000 to recording companies for 24 illegally downloaded songs, or $9,250 per song. In September, however, a judge threw out the verdict, and Thomas was granted a motion for a new trial set for March 9. (Courtesy: Bob King, Duluth News Tribune/AP Photo)

According to an article published Friday by The Wall Street Journal, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) will no longer file lawsuits against the thousands of individuals who allegedly steal and share music illegally on the Internet.

Instead, the article says, they have made deals with Internet-service providers (ISPs) to warn violators if they are unlawfully uploading and/or downloading music. The ISPs will then request that the customer cease the activity. Eventually, the file-sharers who do not stop will have their Internet service either slowed down, or possibly shut off completely.

“Though the industry group is reserving the right to sue people who are particularly heavy file sharers, or who ignore repeated warnings, it expects its lawsuits to decline to a trickle,” the article says. “The group stopped filing mass lawsuits early this fall, … [but] plans to continue with outstanding lawsuits.”

It seems clear that suing those believed to be violating copyright laws was not effective in slowing down file-sharing. Now, the question becomes whether or not denying Internet access for downloaders be enough to get people to pay for music.

Perhaps it could work if everything goes as the RIAA hopes. However, I feel this plan will fail even more miserably than their pricey  lawsuits.

The Wall Street Journal)

With album sales declining in recent years, the recording industry names illegal file-sharing as the cause. (Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal)

There is no place as free and unregulated as the World Wide Web. It will take an enormous fight to impose laws and rules on a medium that is notorious for fostering prohibited activity and is designed for people looking for a loophole.

And, the potential loopholes for the recording industry’s new plan are quite obvious.

First off, there are privacy issues here. Should ISPs be watching their customers so closely that they can monitor whether or not they are illegally downloading copyrighted material? And, if so, then what other sensitive material are ISPs able to access at while trying to prevent piracy?

Another problem would be for users who are wrongly accused. The RIAA already has a less-than-impressive history in determining who is stealing music.

According to a Washington Post article written yesterday, “the [recording industry] has filed numerous lawsuits that have appeared to be faulty, including one now-infamous instance in which it attempted to sue a deceased woman. The woman – who was 83 when she passed away – ‘hated computers,’ her children said.”

One wrongly accused customer who loses their Internet service for an extended period of time would likely counter-sue both their ISP and the RIAA. From there, an ISP would be weary of shutting off a customer’s Internet access until they are entirely sure the customer is guilty of copyright infringement. Not only are false accusations bad for ISPs from a legal standpoint, but also from a business perspective.

There have been attempts to regulate various areas of online activity, but so far none have really amounted to anything. So, to jump from no regulation to close monitoring and the threat of losing access altogether does not seem likely to withstand.

I’d argue there is also an issue as to whether ISPs and the RIAA can legally make such threats. Is access to the Internet, and the wealth of information it offers, protected somehow as a right? If not, should it be? The Internet for some is priceless. It is not just a valuable resource for information, but also for communication.

And, if using the Internet for illegally downloading music would cause someone to lose their right to access, then shouldn’t the decision to shut it off be made by parties with more legal authority than the ISPs and RIAA?

These questions have not been answered to the best of my knowledge, but could prove crucial in the success or failure of the recording industry’s latest attempt to curb music piracy.

Currently, about 19 percent of Internet users illegally share music online, according to consulting firm NPD Group Inc. The recording industry says this figure has remained around 19 percent for the past few years. However, the amount of music files uploaded and downloaded on the Internet has increased, which analysts say is a major factor in why music sales have been declining.

Thus, what can the RIAA do to turn the music industry back around? Well, that Washington Post article provides one idea which I support wholeheartedly:

“The EFF suggests RIAA support a ‘voluntary collective licensing regime’ – basically, a legal peer-to-peer network that’d let music fans pay a small monthly fee for the right to freely trade music. A survey conducted this summer found an overwhelming 80 percent of current peer-to-peer users would be interested in paying for such a system. If organized, it’d put a stamp of approval on a process that’s going on anyway – and, for an inconsequential individual fee of something like $5 a month, the industry would be able to pay rights-holders based on how much their music is being downloaded.”


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