Blown To Bits

Just Like That, the RIAA Stops Harassing Downloaders

Friday, December 19th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal (no login required) summarized by CNet¬†here, the Recording Industry Association of America plans to stop its odious practice of extorting thousands of dollars from teenagers and their parents for downloading small amounts of music. The vicious war didn’t work very well anyway, and created lots of ill will.

Under an agreement brokered by NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, enforcement for large-scale downloading will be transferred to ISPs, whom the RIAA will notify of suspected downloaders. The ISP will contact the alleged downloaders, ask them to stop, and terminate their service if they don’t.

This solution isn’t pretty either — there are downsides to having the ISPs be law enforcers — but it’s a lot better than the current “war on piracy.” As of this moment, the RIAA web site gives no indication that the war is over.

And the RIAA is going to save some money in the process.

What will now happen in the case of RIAA v. Joel Tenenbaum, in which Professor Charles Nesson is trying to have the Digital Millennium Copyright Act declared unconstitutional? Now here’s a dramatic speculation: the RIAA took a look at Nesson’s defense of his counterclaims, got scared, and dropped their lawsuits rather than running the risk of winding up with nothing at all.

Postscript. Some key sentences from the WSJ story:

… ISPs, which are increasingly cutting content deals of their own with entertainment companies, may have more incentive to work with the music labels now than in previous years.

The new approach dispenses with one of the most contentious parts of the lawsuit strategy, which involved filing lawsuits requiring ISPs to disclose the identities of file sharers. Under the new strategy, the RIAA would forward its emails to the ISPs without demanding to know the customers’ identity.

Though the industry group is reserving the right to sue people who are particularly heavy file sharers, or who ignore repeated warnings, it expects its lawsuits to decline to a trickle.

… The RIAA said it plans to continue with outstanding lawsuits.

If so, then the constitutionality question may yet be tested.

Second postscript. Two good observations from the blogosphere. First, by removing the enforcement mechanism from the judicial system and placing it in private hands (those of the ISPs), this agreement makes it possible for ISPs to set their own rules — for example, limiting bandwidth or cutting off service to parties doing lots of uploading or downloading, whether or not the activity is actually illegal. As they are cutting content deals with the music industry, this agreement actually empowers them to do something that is commercially advantageous to them.

Second, note this from the WSJ story:

Litigation, [the RIAA chairman] said, was successful in raising the public’s awareness that file-sharing is illegal, but now he wants to try a strategy he thinks could prove more successful.

But downloading isn’t any more illegal than photocopying is illegal. This is a paraphrase, and we don’t know exactly what the RIAA chairman said, but it’s an indicator of the RIAA’s success in muddying the issue that even the WSJ blandly promotes the false impression that a particular technological practice is unlawful.

6 Responses to “Just Like That, the RIAA Stops Harassing Downloaders”

  1. Tyler Moore Says:

    Joel Tenenbaum and Charles Nesson may yet have their day in court. According to the WSJ article, “the RIAA said it plans to continue with outstanding lawsuits.”

  2. Harry Lewis Says:

    Turns out that, as a matter of law, the counterclaim is independent of the original litigation. Even if RIAA dropped its action against Tenenbaum, the counterclaim could continue and the constitutionality question could be tested. (I am informed by experts that this is the way the law works — but I have no idea what intention either side may have.)

  3. Jiangwei Pan Says:

    It seems to be a good news for people like me who are going to the US from China, where music sharing and downloading will never break the law. And we use IPs dynamically allocated by ISP, so it is harder to find the downloader by IP address.

  4. JBrewton Says:

    Seems like an awful lot of posturing on the part of the RIAA. I’m especially in agreement with Lewis’s note about the classification of file-sharing/downloading as being illegal. Seems to me that the RIAA is passing the buck along to the ISPs while still leaving the door open to litigation where they see fit…convenient. I too hope that Professor Nesson has an opportunity to make his case for Tenenbaum in court.

  5. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » AT&T Broadband Customers: You Are Being Watched Says:

    […] receive warning letters if their activities are suspicious. This is the other shoe dropping after the RIAA’s announcement¬†in December 2008 that it would no longer go after individual downloaders (mainly young, […]

  6. tom Says:

    Now we are harassed by our internet provider with threats.
    We can loose our internet connection without being convicted of anything,