| Major Labels End Lawsuits..... Now What?
Paul Resnikoff, Publisher
Digital Music News, December 20th,
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Major labels are now discontinuing their multi-year, legal attack
against individual file-swappers, according to information confirmed by
the RIAA on Friday. The RIAA-coordinated campaign, first started in
2003, has largely failed to stem file-sharing volumes, while producing
massive public relations issues and burning millions in courtroom costs.
According to agreement details shared with Digital Music News,
alternative plans are now being pursued with various ISPs in the United
States. The reshaped agreements call for ISPs to start issuing
warnings and eventually, terminations, to infringing subscribers.
The RIAA pointed to confidential negotiations, and nothing has been
separately confirmed by ISPs. Some discussions are being facilitated
by New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo, a broader forum that may
also include the motion picture industry. "Attorney General Cuomo
became involved in helping facilitate conversations during the summer,"
RIAA representative Jonathan Lamy said on Friday. "This has been a
That leaves a lot of open questions, especially in the absence of
above-board, joint announcements with ISPs. Is everyone on board?
And, are ISPs willing to play bad cop against their own, paying
Major labels are accustomed to that sort of attack, but ISPs are
undoubtedly considering their next steps wisely. "Once you start going
down the path of looking at the information going down the network,
there are many that want you to play the role of policeman," Verizon
executive vice president of public affairs Thomas J. Tauke told the New
York Times earlier this year. "Stop illegal gambling offshore. Stop
pornography. Stop a whole array of other kinds of activities that some
may think inappropriate."
Other questions are also lingering. Once the claimed agreements start
rolling, the exact processes for handling suspected file-swappers
remains unclear. The RIAA pointed to a graduated response, one that
will ultimately result in terminated accounts. Access providers have
previously resisted those initiatives, and digitally-focused civil
liberties groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are
likely to fight the actions. Consumers may also fight back, especially
those falsely accused of file-swapping across shared, wireless
Perhaps one thing is clear - the carnage is bloody in the rearview
mirror. In total, the RIAA has sued more than 35,000, often through
complicated, "John Doe" procedures designed to circumvent ISP-driven
privacy protections. Ongoing lawsuits will be finalized, though fresh
suits will not be issued except for egregious, selected situations,
according to the trade group. The majors will also stop pursuing
lawsuits against university students, the subject of an entirely
different theater of negotiations. "We stopped filing new lawsuits in
August of this year," Lamy continued.
On that matter, attorney Ray Beckerman found suits filed earlier this
month, raising questions of exactly when the actions are being
terminated. "We have learned that a number of suits have been brought
by the RIAA, some as recently as last week," Beckerman explained.
The development follows a serious plunge in album sales in the United
States - and abroad, for that matter. During the past three months,
album sales have dropped more than 20 percent year-over-year, driven
mostly by physical product declines. That, coupled with fresh
challenges from parties like Harvard University Law School, are
undoubtedly influencing the changed path.
The game is clearly changing, but the rules, battles, and players
involved are difficult to predict. Additionally, as the news filters
down to music fans, file-sharing volumes could spike upward. Ahead of
the shutdown of Napster, file-swapping actually boomed, the first of
many disruptive chapters still being written.
Paul Resnikoff is the founder and publisher of Digital Music
News (www.digitalmusicnews.com), a premier industry source for news,
information, and analysis. Digital Music News has quickly grown from its humble
roots as a small, executive news service to the most widely read information
source in the field.
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