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for January 23, 2004

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If The Suit Fits...
by Sean Carolan

The headlines read "RIAA revives download suits" and "Industry sues 532 download suspects".
"Download". "Suit". Sounds like they're suing people who download music, doesn't it?
Aa it turns out, there's an intellectual bait-and-switch going on here. Most of the headlines I've read connote that the suits are against "downloaders", but when you read the meat of it, it's explained that they're being sued because they're distributing ("sharing") music, not because they're downloading it. (To their credit, some of the more savvy news organizations rewrote the headline to read "file-swappers" or "file-sharers".) But, of course, misleading people fits into the RIAA's agenda.
Sort of the way that the "421 CD Burners" they once siezed in New York turned out to be far fewer. The number was inflated by the RIAA in their press release because they were "really fast"...
In short, what they say and what they actually do are two different things, and everything is spun heavily.
In fact, it probably would be reasonable to point out that these are all "John Doe" cases. The RIAA must make the suit stand up in court before they try to determine the actual people behind the activity. Upshot: This very big number will wind up being a much smaller number.
In a more physical manifestation of this activity, I notice that the RIAA have been taking to busting actual pirates - people who sell illegally copied discs on street corners.
So far, so good. I'm all for this when done properly.
However, they're doing it outside of law enforcement, and are in fact jumping out of vans wearing vests with "RIAA" emblazoned on them (the better to look like law enforcement) and belligerently getting street-corner disc sellers to sign an "agreement to sieze" before siezing their stuff. The street-corner guy signs it and they take his discs - with no legal oversight at all, even though it could potentially be legitimate. Here's the link. Little things like due process and an actual law enforcement presence when relieving someone of their posessions obviously aren't an issue here. I've heard protection rackets operate in roughly the same fashion.
Maybe it's just me, but wouldn't the RIAA's statements hold up a lot better if they'd just tell the truth when they are in the right? Even when they're clearly defending their property against a blatant violation of their copyright, they inflate the importance of the action (or indeed, of their involvement) up to and past the point of credulity. You can't trust them to make a statement without inflating it in some manipulative way.
So, what is the truth?
The truth: In the US, the record industry had its best years when Napster was in full force, because (despite the fact that it was all a copyright infringement) people were hearing new music and buying it. The RIAA had an audience of 60 million they could have siezed if they'd tried to come to terms with Napster (and had realized that it was more like a radio station with an unlimited number of formats.) Instead, they went for the shutdown, and embittered a massive population who, despite their PR to the contrary, were in large part actually their customers. When Napster declined, so did sales, because of a combination of a faltering economy, fewer promotional distribution outlets, and pure consumer revolt.
In fact, downloads are even recognized by the record industry as an indicator of popularity. That's why they pay money to the research outfit "Big Champagne", whose stock in trade is determining what's actually popularly downloaded on the Internet.
The music industry is playing both sides, but they really don't want you to know that.
As for people doing what they'd like with the media they've bought, the RIAA may want to take a clue from the movie industry, which has quietly withdrawn its suits over whether De-CSS, which decrypts DVDs so that they can be played (and copied), is legal to distribute or not. It's not illegal (and in fact, never was.) So find a copy and exercise your rights...

©2004 Sean Carolan

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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