December 22, 2008
RIAA Changes Course on Piracy Strategy
The RIAA announced on Friday that it was going to drop its strategy of suing file sharers and focus on working with ISPs to identify and warn egregious users. Those who ignore the ISP warnings would likely lose their Internet access. This all sounds like a win for the music customer. After all, what industry automatically assumes the consumer of its products are thieves and should be treated that way. More likely the shift in attitude has more benefit to the RIAA. Lawsuits are costly, and testimony in some of the file sharing cases indicate that the trade association was costing its members money without making any headway in curbing music piracy. Moreover, cases were not slam dunks as the RIAA had to contend with false positives (and the negative publicity that surrounded these prosecutions) and, gasp, defendants who fought back. The courts didn't always follow the RIAA line which raised the problem of establishing negative legal precedent to RIAA agenda.
This new strategy avoids some of these problems. The plan now is to work cooperatively with ISPs who will work with the RIAA to disconnect the pirates after warning them. Details are not available as to which companies are involved, how the monitoring takes place, and what circumstances trigger a response, and what options the targeted individual will have to contest the "pirate" designation. This minimizes bad precedent coming out of the courts. Better still, there would be less accountability for the actions of the players, at least until someone sues their ISP over how they were treated.
ISPs will likely come on board as a way of setting a precedent for the FCC and Congress of establishing a valid network management practice that curbs a "bad" use of the Internet. Congress, even the newly minted 111th edition (now with more Democrats!) will likely roll over on this one. The FCC is another story, if only because the membership changes with the new administration.
The biggest question here is privacy. After all, how is an ISP going to know the files in question are illegal music shares instead of that 2 gig porn movie? Then again, ISPs would rather want that 2 gigs of bandwidth going to something purchased, preferably from them. It all adds up to industries doing something together that they likely could not justify doing on their own.
Ars Technica has an interview with RIAA president Cary Sherman which touches on some of the points of the new plan. It answers some questions (some form of appeal will be available) but leaves open many others (no idea what that form will be; which ISPs are in on this). Read it here. [MG]