Looking Back at Five Years of RIAA Litigation
Looking Back at Five Years of RIAA Litigation
Looking Back at Five Years of RIAA Litigation

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    Last week, Wired’s Threat Level blog ran a great feature, which takes a close look at the RIAA’s ongoing legal campaign against filesharers on the fifth anniversary of the first RIAA suits. Since then, the RIAA’s campaign has expanded to include a whopping 30,000 lawsuits, nearly all of which have been or will be settled out of court. While the Copyright Act allows for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement (i.e. per song), the RIAA has been generous enough to settle most cases out of court for a few thousand dollars–thereby ensuring that most defendants choose a quick cash settlement over costly legal fees and months of litigation, regardless of guilt. Obviously, the RIAA has managed to raise quite a bit of money for its own pursuits through this legal campaign (not a single cent of which has gone to the artists the RIAA claims that it’s working to protect, mind you). But what else has the music industry lobbying group accomplished during the last five years?

    In short, a whole lot of nothing. The RIAA’s only jury victory in five years, against Minnesota single mother Jammie Thomas, is currently at risk of being overturned, due to the shaky legal ground on which the RIAA’s theory of “making available” stands. That means that in five years and 30,000 lawsuits, the RIAA has failed to set a legal precedent in its favor.

    Okay, well, surely the RIAA’s campaign against filesharers has struck fear into the hearts of pirates everywhere, right? And after all, isn’t that the point of this whole exercise, to create a “general sense of awareness,” as RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth puts it? While reliable statistics are hard to come by, it does look like the use of traditional P2P applications is dropping, as the use of legal streaming video applications rises. That doesn’t mean, however, that folks are necessarily downloading fewer copyrighted works online. As a few recent, high-profile busts have demonstrated, filesharers might just be moving further underground, so as to avoid RIAA scrutiny.

    Take, for example, OiNK, a P2P filesharing “darknet” which was taken down last year, following a two-year investigation. According to the IFPI, OiNK boasted a membership of some 180,000 ‘hard-core file sharers’. Now, if you consider that OiNK isn’t the only site of its kind out there–and we know for a fact that it’s not–it becomes quite clear that users are still illegally swapping music online: they’re just doing it in a way that’s harder to track.

    Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney and recent IP3 Award winner, Fred von Lohmann sums this all up quite nicely: “If the goal is to reduce file sharing, [the RIAA’s campaign is] a failure.”

    For more on the RIAA’s crusade against filesharers, be sure to read the full Wired article.