Apr 132014

Music sharing = crime?A recent story on Maine Public Radio highlights the changing tactics of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Music representatives are now offering students 10 or $20 to settle copyright infringement, despite theoretical statutory penalties of $150,000 per song.

Does this deal represent a renewed sympathy for file-sharers on the part of the RIAA, or does it represent an admission that the PR and legal strategies of the past have backfired?

Maine Public Radio’s Jennifer Mitchell interviewed Jon Ippolito on the subject.

Still Water blog · $10 piracy settlements signal that file-sharing is the new normal

Given the industry’s track record of successfully suing individuals who refuse to settle, new media specialist Jon Ippolito says whether the new strategy works remains to be seen.

“It’s not like the RIAA and the MPAA have abandoned older strategies, but they’ve tried so many of them, and so many of them have failed,” Ippolito says, “not so much in the courts or in the legislature, but in the, sort of, court of public opinion….”

New media observer Jon Ippolito says that what we’re really feeling are the growing pains of technological innovation outpacing an industry that’s trying desperately to maintain control over its product distribution. And ironically, he says it’s his very students at places like the University of Maine who will eventually have to come up with the solutions.

For those keeping score, here is a synopsis of recent developments in the battle over sharing music online:

  • Around 2008, the RIAA fired the infringer-locator MediaSentry, though it’s not clear it really did back off litigation.
  • It is clear that publicly the RIAA has tried new tactics, like pressuring Google.
  • In 2013 the entertainment industry convinced five of the biggest ISPs to adopt a “Six Strikes” copyright infringement alert protocol, which would culminate in bandwidth throttling and other consequences.
  • Techdirt subsequently reported that some entertainment companies have been targeting ISPs (and their customers) that weren’t part of the Six Strikes law, asking for $20 per song.
  • Apparently the new “MediaSentry” is Rightscorp, which has been sending the $20 notices on behalf of Warner Brothers and BMG. Here’s a sample letter. Here’s another. And another.
  • The two high-profile defendants (Tenenbaum and Thomas-Rasset) who lost against the RIAA were assessed $10,000 to $20,000 per song. So why are BMG and Warner Bros asking for 1/1000th of the amount per song assessed in these court cases? Many observers think it’s because they have such an unlikely chance of winning a case against the infringers–in general they don’t even know the name of the individual associated with that IP address, nor can be sure the songs were downloaded by that individual.
  • Tenenbaum and Thomas-Rasset lost basically because they insisted on pursuing a court judgment despite terrible defense strategies.
  • TorrentFreak goes so far as to suggest that the reason the “artists” on some of these lists are so old (Ray Charles, Elvis Presley) is that their letters will find their way to older, less savvy Internet users who are more likely to fall for such schemes.

For some observers, it’s getting increasingly hard to distinguish the tactics of copyright holders (see Prenda Law) from more “professional” extortionists like our Russian friends mentioned in this $20/song scam. Maybe that’s why the MPAA and RIAA are affectionately known as the MAFIAA by many filesharers. It also shows how desperate they are.