Friday, January 23, 2004

Back in the Closet

Hmmm... another thing to do behind closed doors - especially because kids may be involved. Downloading music, that is! Now, I can't say that I do such things, working in the music publishing business (copyright, no less), but I will say that I'm all in favor of being able to hear something before you buy it. Why? There's a lot of crap out there! And sometimes something is a limited edition and you don't buy it in time, or it was only released overseas, or it's out of print... what about those times?

Anyway, here's some of the latest news on the subject. Lock up your daughters; the RIAA may be coming for them and all their babysitting money!

From the Washington Post… Wednesday, January 21st:

The recording industry reignited its legal campaign against online piracy, filing four lawsuits that target 532 people accused of illegally swapping copyrighted music on the Internet. The Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) legal salvo is the first since a federal appeals court ruling last month restricted the group's ability to track down the identities of suspected file sharers.

"The message to illegal file sharers should be as clear as ever: we can and will continue to file lawsuits," said RIAA President Cary Sherman in a telephone conference with reporters today. The recording industry started taking action against people who trade music online after determining that Internet piracy was contributing to a dramatic drop in album sales. Compact disc sales fell from $943 million in 2000 to $803 million in 2002.

Despite the early success of legal services like Apple's iTunes and Wal-Mart's discounted music downloads, sharing illegally copied files for free remains a popular online pastime.

The lawsuits were filed after a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled on Dec. 19 that the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act does not grant the RIAA special subpoena power to obtain the names of several Verizon Internet customers believed to be trading files online.

Ahead of that ruling, the RIAA used the subpoenas -- which it obtained without a judge's order -- to demand that several major Internet service providers reveal the identities of thousands of suspected file sharers. Information provided by some companies led to copyright infringement lawsuits against 382 people last year and 233 private settlements. The average settlement amount has been $3,000, even though copyright holders can seek as much as $150,000 per song.

The new lawsuits filed make good on the RIAA's promise last month to continue going after suspected music pirates despite a loss in the Verizon case. Unlike the lawsuits it filed last fall against individual Internet users, the RIAA filed a handful of "John Doe" lawsuits targeting 532 unique "Internet protocol" numbers of Internet customers believed to be sharing music online. The RIAA plans to subpoena respective Internet service providers to obtain the names of people using those IP numbers.

"People should not be confused. Some people think the Verizon case means that you can go ahead and get back on a service and trade files," said Mitch Glazier, the RIAA's senior vice president for government relations. "We're not going to just sit and do no enforcement while the courts are figuring out the Verizon case."

Greg Bildson, chief operating officer of LimeWire, a New York-based file-sharing company, said the John Doe lawsuits are preferable to the glut of subpoenas issued before the Verizon ruling."They're at least getting closer to being appropriate, but they're still abusing the music enthusiasts with these lawsuits, which in the long run can't be good for business," Bildson said.

LimeWire is among a handful of file-sharing services that have petitioned the RIAA and Congress to create a licensing program that would make copyrighted file sharing legal. Gigi Sohn, president of Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties group Public Knowledge, said that the RIAA sees "the handwriting on the wall."

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who opposes the legal campaign, said, "While the industry has every right to protect its intellectual property, lawsuits should not be the primary means by which they do so."

A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that the number of American Internet users who said they downloaded music online fell from 29 percent in the spring of 2003 (before the RIAA campaign began) to 14 percent in November and December. But that does not mean that the numbers are on the wane, said Eric Garland, chief executive of Big Champagne, an Atlanta-based company that tracks activity on the peer-to-peer networks that people use to trade files. “What a great finding from the Pew study is that downloading music has joined the ranks of social taboos," said Garland. "What it means is not that they're not doing these things, but they've wised up and they're not talking about doing these things."

The number of American households downloading digital music went up 14 percent between September and November 2003, according to a report released earlier this month by the NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y. The findings were based on NPD's MusicWatch service which monitors the computers of 40,000 online "panelists."