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RIAA Shifts Tactics in Internet Piracy Fight

Five years on, and 350,000 lawsuits later, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) announced this morning that the’re finally giving up on small-time file sharers.  Well, sort of.

Wading through the blogosphere (as opposed to wading through the two feet of snow outside), it looks like the story starts here: CNET reports that sources close to the RIAA claim the group’s budget is being slashed and their role reduced. One might assume they face the same problems as any business or organization – a tough economic climate, dwindling sales, and so on. A likely story, but given the fact that those 350,000 lawsuits targeted many innocent individuals, levied disproportionately high penalties to very small time file sharers, and in sum total did next to nothing to curb on-line piracy, maybe the truth is their litigious witch hunt has been a near total failure, and they’re finally acknowledging that.

It’s not all good news for fans of file sharing, as you aren’t off the hook yet.  The RIAA has apparently struck deals with several major ISPs to enact a “3 strikes and you’re out” policy.  So the witch hunt is still on, but instead of slapping you with a lawsuit, the RIAA intends on tattle-taling to your Internet provider instead.  The ones who have agreed to cooperate (and so far, the ISPs in agreement have NOT been named), will likely follow this line of attack: (1) a warning; (2) a second warning coupled with speed reduction and/or possible block of peer to peer traffic, (3) cut off your Internet access all together.

NY State’s own Attorney General Andrew Cuomo apparently played a large role in brokering this deal.  You may remember Cuomo’s campaign to stop on-line child pornography earlier in the year (aka the ISPs campaign to have a good excuse to stop providing Usenet service while making good press yet not actually doing much to stop on-line child pornography)… borrowing a page from that book, we can see the list of ISPs Cuomo has already gotten cooperation from in the past here. I’ll reiterate – the RIAA has not said which ISPs are on board; and this is speculation on my part, but I have a feeling we’ll see a lot of those same names come out as participants.

So the bit of good news is, you probably aren’t going to get sued if you’re caught illegally downloading a couple of songs.  The RIAA also will never know your identity, nor harass or subpoena your ISP to learn your identity.

The bad news? There’s a couple points…

  • The RIAA doesn’t need to follow due process anymore. That saves them a lot of lawyers, a lot of time, and a lot of money.  Remember those budget cuts I mentioned?  Probably not relevant; they don’t need the budget to do things this way. No lawyers needed, less in depth investigation needed… any suspicion of somebody? Just fire off an e-mail!
  • The RIAA still reserves the right to sue big-time file sharers with large volumes of songs.  They might go after you if you do something particularly irksome as well (careful with those “leaked” pre-release albums, kids!)  There’s no clear line. So while the risk to file sharers has gone down, it hasn’t gone away.
  • It looks like enforcement is a the discretion of the ISPs, and it’s the RIAA’s word against yours. No real proof needs to be provided, no appeals process, etc… unless your ISP is nice enough to provide a fair process, you’re probably out of luck, be it rightly or wrongly accused.
  • Lastly, it’s just a huge can of worms that probably shouldn’t be opened.  ISPs should be neutral. They provide a service that transmits your data from point A to point B.  They shouldn’t have any business telling you what you can or can’t send from “A” to “B” – if you’re breaking the law, there’s a legal system to deal with it. Does this mean ISPs are going to start spying on your traffic to confirm RIAA complaints?  Does it mean they’re going to do the police work for other industry organizations?  Are ISPs themselves going to take heat if they fail to comply with RIAA requests? Are they going to go beyond cutting off your Internet access and blacklisting you from their services as a group – again, without any sort of legal due process to prove your guilt?  (That’s what they’re looking to do in some European countries, by the way.)  Are they going to apply the connection-slowdown-punishment to other areas at their discretion? Obviously there’s a lot more questions than answers right now, but it doesn’t look good for the pro-net neutrality folks.

Surely this will be an on-going process that we’re all going to have to wait to see how it pans out. It’s a small victory for file sharers.  Potentionally a large loss for privacy and neutrality advocates. Possibly, like the RIAA’s last campaign, a bunch of hot air that gets them nowhere fast. Some day we’ll come up with a way where artists looking to get paid can, and ‘netziens looking for free content can find it without fear… but it’s certainly not today.

  • CYB3RN1NJ4

    This is uncool i dont believe they should be monitering our internets or slowing it down we have a legal system and there are no laws on the internet, none that can really take effet in the real world so therfore they are infringing on my american rights

  • Guy

    “fuck the police” doesn’t even cut it these days… It’s really “fuck these greedy corporations”… they’re the ones with the power.

  • Izodn

    So true. Who controls the government now days… who ever has enough money to bribe, meaning large enough companys, ex: Nintendo, Sony, Comcast.

  • Chris

    The RIAA doesn’t own the right to every new song, lyric or whatever. I think independents can band together and create a new entity like the RIAA to protect rights, just 99% less greedy.

  • FroM The Hood…

    Ima still load ma shiT for free…