updated 08:25 am EST, Fri December 19, 2008
RIAA Drops Lawsuit Tactics
The RIAA today delivered a partial change in stance on Friday by revealing that it will drop its longstanding campaign of suing individual users it alleges have pirate music. The representative group for major music labels says the decision comes after recognizing that its previous approach made people aware of file sharing as a problem but that it was ultimately not very effective in halting the problem outright. Although the number of users has remained constant, the amount of files traded has gone up, the RIAA claims.
Instead, the organization plans to adopt a strategy primarily used by the MPAA and UK music labels that will rely on agreements with "major" Internet providers to screen file sharing. Users will be told when they have been allegedly found illegally trading music and will be given one or two more warnings that may include throttling to discourage sharing. Providers may optionally disconnect users outright, according to the RIAA.
How soon this approach would start is unknown, though the RIAA's members plan to continue any ongoing lawsuits.
The strategy won't entirely replace lawsuits against the most frequent traders but would eliminate some of the problems raised by critics of the previous strategy, including pressure to breach customers' privacy by requiring identification for the sake of a lawsuit. It would also soften the initial response by the RIAA to discoveries by avoiding lawsuits as first responses.
While positioned as cautious, the new approach is already believed to be a reaction to an increasingly negative public perception of its lawsuit tactics, which have often targeted incorrect subjects and have often been leveled at those suspected of relatively mild file trading. Well-known lawsuit target Jammie Thomas successfully had an RIAA win overturned after the judge in her case determined that the fine levied against Thomas was well in excess of the actual cost of the two dozen songs allegedly shared.
Others have accused the RIAA of racketeering-like behavior with the lawsuits by pushing many towards uncontested settlements worth thousands of dollars rather than facing frequently unaffordable disputes in court.
Both the lawsuits and now notifications are widely believed to be attempts to shore up declining music sales, with a large drop in CD purchases over recent years yet to be fully matched by a similar increase in Internet sales through iTunes and other stores.