FAIL: RIAA’s Legal Campaign

8 10 2008

Techdirt reports that the EFF’s recent writeup of the RIAA’s legal efforts against file-sharers (dubbed the “Sue-Everyone” strategy) has been a near-total failure.

It started with suing technology providers. All that did was make more people aware of file sharing. When it succeeded in getting Napster shut down, plenty of others showed up that were much more difficult to shut down. So, then, the RIAA shifted to suing individuals accused of unauthorized sharing, claiming that it was an “education campaign” to teach people that unauthorized file sharing was illegal. All that’s done is turn many more people against the RIAA, while continuing to educate them that file sharing exists. In fact, many more people engage in file sharing now than five years ago when the campaign started.

Wait just a minute… I’m skeptical that the RIAA’s efforts led to more piracy simply by making consumers aware that file-sharing exists. This weak point smells of intellectual or argumentative laziness. Guess what else is more common today than it was five years ago? High-speed internet access, mp3 players, multiple PCs per household, and digital media in general. But I digress…

So, effectively, the lawsuits haven’t worked (the RIAA has not had a full trial turn out in its favor yet). It’s turned public opinion massively against the RIAA and its associated record labels. It hasn’t done anything to slow down unauthorized file sharing, and may have actually helped promote it. About the only “success” of the strategy is that it’s turned into something of a cash generator for the RIAA, by frightening people, with strong legal language around flimsy evidence, into paying “presettlements” to avoid being sued.

Well, I do hate the RIAA. And I do know of a few people who’ve been frightened into using iTunes exclusively (or they may have been persuaded by the hipster-appeal of Apple’s iPod+iTunes ad campaign – so many colors to express your unique personality!). Regardless, the RIAA’s failure has little to do with it’s negative press, and much more to do with the current legal interpretation of intellectual property vs. fair use. While I’m no expert in IP law, I’m convinced that the changing music marketplace will lead to more opportunities for entrepreneurial musicians to find profits by adopting a new business model (a la Radiohead, although that’s certainly not the only model).

We’re entering a new age in entertainment that may not support monolithic organizations like the RIAA much longer. Soon enough, they’ll need musicians more than the musicians will need them. If you think it’s bad now, just imagine the amount of rent-seeking that will be going on then!



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