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ISPs Pursue Music Pirates, Not RIAA

Is it the calm before the storm? Possibly, as the music industry is ceasing most legal pursuits against music-sharing consumers, and is passing the torch over to ISPs.

The announcement is certainly a shock, as the notorious defender of the music industry has gone after over 35,000 people since it initially launched its legal campaign back in 2003. But while the RIAA plans to pass the torch over to Internet Service Providers, these ISPs aren't taking the burdens likely, and currently has not agreed to alter customer accounts despite some reports suggesting otherwise. Unfortunately, for those still facing lawsuits, the RIAA still plans to continue with its outstanding cases despite the new direction.

Apparently, the overall plan is to not go after low-end music pirates with legal threats, but to slap their hands with warning emails a few times before limiting or even shutting down their Internet connection altogether. The RIAA will still use the same questionable process of investigating file sharing activity, and will contact each ISP directly with the identifying information. Ultimately, as the Washington Post initially described, the RIAA has tossed out its need for the government and has now self-proclaimed itself as the music industry Sherriff, with the ISP serving as the bumbling deputy.

The Wall Street Journal originally revealed the RIAA's decision Friday (story), and while many artists, publishers, and even consumers may breathe a heavy sigh of relief, others criticize the RIAA's new plan, saying that the company is taking a dangerous step. In fact, it could mean that even more music fans will be harassed than ever before. Although the music industry will not know the offending consumer's identity, ISPs will no longer remain neutral and must enforce the new agreement.

"The problem is the lack of due process for those accused," says Fred von Lohmann, senior staff Attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates for Internet rights. "In a world where hundreds of thousands, or millions, of copyright infringement allegations are automatically generated and delivered to ISPs, mistakes are going to be made. ... Anyone who has ever had to fight to correct an error on their credit reports will be able to imagine the trouble we're in for."

It's widely known that the RIAA's legal attempts has been full of mistakes and embarassments, one of which consisted of suing a dead woman back in 2005, claiming that the deceased woman made more than 700 songs available on the Internet. The group even went after a 12-year-old girl who stored a MP3 of her favorite TV show on her hard drive. Overall, the RIAA's legal actions has proven ineffective in reducing unauthorized file-sharing. "Downloading from P2P networks is more popular than ever, despite the widespread public awareness of lawsuits," reports the EFF. "And the lawsuit campaign has not resulted in any royalties to artists. One thing has become clear: suing music fans is no answer to the P2P dilemma."

But in a report posted over on CNET News, the RIAA isn't dropping legal actions altogether. According to music industry insiders, the group will still pursue legal action against consumers who download 5,000 to 6,000 songs a month. For those who fall under the new enforcement plan, it may be possible that accused consumers will be placed on a black list not only with the current ISP, but on multiple services, all based on "allegations of breaking the law."

Allegations. Not verdicts passed by a Judge, but merely allegations.

The EFF suggests that a file-sharing network be established where users pay a set $5 fee every month. Not only would artists and right holders receive compensation, but the current file sharing would be legalized. "So long as they pay, the fans are free to keep doing what they are going to do anyway—share the music they love using whatever software they like on whatever computer platform they prefer—without fear of lawsuits," says the EFF in this report. "The money collected gets divided among rights holders based on the popularity of their music. In exchange, file sharing music fans who pay (or have their ISP or software provider or other intermediary pay on their behalf) will be free to download whatever they like, using whatever software works best for them."

Could this ultimately solve the music-sharing problem? Perhaps, but there will always be the consumers who will find a way around the system, either by setting up a private P2P network with hacked software, or turning to Usenet where downloading activity is nearly impossible to track. As the EFF states, pursuing legal actions against low-end file sharing consumers has proven ineffective. ISP-enforced blacklisting, based on RIAA data, may ultimately force the majority of Internet users offline (that's called sarcasm). Providing a flat-fee PSP may work, but with MySpace Music, YouTube, iMeem and other streaming music services, the music industry may see a huge shift in direction again.

At least consumers can rejoice momentarily: the music industry may have just emerged from the Dark Ages.

  • Pei-chen
    This is likely a RIAA/music industry and ISP alliance. The music industry wants to promote CD based products and the ISP wants an excuse to cut bandwidth.
    Reply
  • I suspect that the smart ISPs will resist the pressure, since it seems to me that regulating content in this way would endanger the ISP's status as a common carrier. Losing common carrier status means that they become legally liable for every bit of content crossing their networks, including criminal activity like tranmitting child porn or terrorist plots.
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  • "Perhaps, but there will always be the consumers who will find a way around the system, either by setting up a private P2P network with hacked software, or turning to Usenet where downloading activity is nearly impossible to track."

    Sure, but at least for the majority of users, who recognize the need for artists to be rewarded for their work or aren't just plain greedy, it will open a way to download stuff legally. So illegal downloading will turn into a sizable problem, not something that half of the population is doing.
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  • Heyyou27
    Downloading music doesn't use very much bandwidth, so I think they'll need to find a different way to appeal to the delicate senses of the ISPs. If my ISP adds a monthly bandwidth cap, I'll drop their ass in a matter of minutes. Luckily, I live in an area that has a lot of competition so this is an option for me. I'd probably kill myself if I was stuck in an area where Comcrap is your only option for high-speed internet.
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  • hellwig
    No ISPs are going to waste their resources doing anything about music pirating unless the RIAA starts to pay them. Why would any company waste their time and money policing the RIAA's problem? The law has already decided in the ISPs favor that they are not responsible for the content of the data transmitted over their networks, so why would they care what the RIAA says? This is probably just a desperation attempt to cut back on their expenditures before their music-industry partners cut off their funds for lack of performance.
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  • jacobdrj
    Who is the RIAA/MPAA to be an authority of copyright? What about those NOT represented by these anti-free-market trusts.

    If any money transfers hands, the artists/producers should get a cut. But otherwise, it is like a library sharing items.

    Now, to the topic at hand: Yes, the ISPs want to reduce bandwidth, but they also want to not be sued, and I have a feeling they don't even want the RIAA/MPAA to be in a position to sue, and therefore have to put up a legal defense. That is expensive in it's own right. Now, if it gets to the point that defending against the RIAA/MPAA is less expensive than having customers flock to a newer source of bandwidth, maybe they will start to ignore the problem.

    IMHO the MPAA has found a new business model that works: Hulu and Netflix. Ad based and fee based approaches that are fast and that work. But the ISPs in the US who won't spend to update their networks want to conserve bandwidth, and therefore quash this up and coming industry in its tracks.

    Pretending that the RIAA is a single autonomous company, they need to find a new business model. For example: Why do radio stations not get royalties when they are selling add space by playing music on the radio? Money is changing hands and artists/producers are not being compensated.

    As far as artists and managers: Concerts will always be the cash cow of the industry, and no amount of music sharing will change this, like how free TV didn't kill the motion picture industry, and radio didn't kill them music industry.

    People will always buy hard copies of music and movies. They like cover art. They like liner notes. They like high definition visual/audio experience that sometimes is lacking with radio/TV and online content. They like the simplicity a record/disk/chip/tape brings.

    Ironic that as an ISP, AT&T was doing it right having no contract, inexpensive monthly DSL service with no bandwidth cap. Sad that Comcast is heralding in AT&T's demise in this regard.
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  • gm0n3y
    "The EFF suggests that a file-sharing network be established where users pay a set $5 fee every month. Not only would artists and right holders receive compensation, but the current file sharing would be legalized. "So long as they pay, the fans are free to keep doing what they are going to do anyway—share the music they love using whatever software they like on whatever computer platform they prefer—without fear of lawsuits," says the EFF in this report. "The money collected gets divided among rights holders based on the popularity of their music. In exchange, file sharing music fans who pay (or have their ISP or software provider or other intermediary pay on their behalf) will be free to download
    whatever they like, using whatever software works best for them."

    Hasn't this been the common consensus among the online community for the past couple of years? If they're telling me that they just thought of this now, then they are fucking idiots. I've been stating that this is the answer to everyone's music problems for a long time now.

    The reason I think they haven't implemented this is because it takes the power out of the hands of the major record labels and puts the power back into the hands of the consumers and artists. Think about it, its a network where people download whatever they want, not just what is in your local HMV or Walmart. Artists won't need a major label to get distribution, they can just upload the music themselves and get 100% of the profits. This would in fact be a major revolution in the music industry, hence why the majors don't want this. They want to control what we listen to and keep their lions share of the industry profits.

    If this could ever happen, it would be the best thing to ever happen to music. Artists being paid based on how many/much people like their music, not how well they're marketed (though marketing will still play a factor of course). Many different non-mainstream niches will have a chance to grow. Musicians will have the ability to decide what they want to write, having artistic freedom unheard of for those signed to a label. I dream of the day when I will no longer be forced to hear the canned bullshit forced on me by the labels and when smaller musicians playing outside the mainstream will actually be able to make a little money from their music.
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  • Maxor127
    So am I missing something? Where does it say ISPs are going to start going after music pirates? And why would they even waste their time doing that? And if it is true, which specific ones have announced that because I seriously doubt there's been some secret meeting in a dark, stormy castle where all ISPs agreed to a blood pact to be the RIAA's bitch. That's a sure way to lose customers. This all just seems like dreaming or scarecrow tactics by the RIAA's part. So is there some proof of this or is it just rampant speculation because it's too early for April Fool's Day.
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  • WheelsOfConfusion
    gm0n3y"The EFF suggests that a file-sharing network be established where users pay a set $5 fee every month. Not only would artists and right holders receive compensation, but the current file sharing would be legalized. "So long as they pay, the fans are free to keep doing what they are going to do anyway—share the music they love using whatever software they like on whatever computer platform they prefer—without fear of lawsuits," says the EFF in this report. "The money collected gets divided among rights holders based on the popularity of their music. In exchange, file sharing music fans who pay (or have their ISP or software provider or other intermediary pay on their behalf) will be free to downloadwhatever they like, using whatever software works best for them."Hasn't this been the common consensus among the online community for the past couple of years? If they're telling me that they just thought of this now, then they are fucking idiots. I doubt this concept is new to the EFF, which has not only been around the block a few times but actually built a lot of the stuff on that block. I would actually be in favor of this measure. Even levying media like blank disks as in Canada is better than the current situation here in the States, which I can only describe as a neurotic free-for-all. The RIAA has demonstrated that they can be disproportionately litigious against individuals, yield too many false-positives, operate at the very fringes of the law and beyond reasonable defense when it comes time to file the claim, use illegal means to track download activity (such as the copyright-infringing Kazaa Lite the used to employ), and that the proceeds for all their pillaging don't even make it back to the content creators. The only image they have garnered is that they've done less to protect the artists who lay their golden eggs than to try and shadke down passers-by almost indiscriminately. Even people who don't want to engage in piracy hate them for it. I'd be surprised if they had any public opinion on their side. That's a terrible position to be in when your stated purpose is to protect creative people from being ripped off and cheated; nobody's buying that anymore and you have no sympathy from the public.

    I imagine that despite the predictions that ISPs will use/abuse this new approach to free up bandwidth, it will actually be more hassle than it's worth to maintain. That could mean ISPs don't cooperate when the RIAA comes knocking, that they make little to no effort to ensure that the accusations are correct so they only half-ass it, or that basic service for every customer becomes even more expensive to fund their monitoring and reps and handle the increased volume of customer complaints. If do they go along with it, I think the latter two are more likely than not. And the possibility of customers being put on an ISP blacklist is horrifying.

    Some people will always continue to pirate media. However, I wonder what impact the iTunes Store and other legitimate outlets of content have done in providing a legal alternative. I'm sure it's given a lot of people an acceptable way to get new music and whatnot that they'd otherwise have gotten from bootleggers. Expanding deliver options from internet storefronts into other media like P2P networks can only grab more folks looking for the best way to get stuff legally. Subscriptions might be more likely to work in this format than individual purchases, which are otherwise fine for website shops.
    Reply
  • kamkal
    The RIAA/MPAA never has, or ever will, care about the artists

    It is all about maximum profits for the guys that have no musical/acting talent whatsoever, aka the suits at head office.

    If they were smart they would setup their own online store and sell tracks just like iTunes does.
    Reply