File-Sharing Suits About Fear, Not Cash

The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) claims it's the trade organization that supports and promotes the creative and financial vitality of the major music companies. No, it's not. It's designed to support a broken, old business model of selling CDs to frightened music lovers. No where do you see that more than the RIAA spending $17.6 million in 2007 to recover a mere $391,000.

It's actually worse than that. According to the DailyTech's numbers, the RIAA spent about $64 million to make $1.4 million between 2006 and 2008. So why are they doing this? Because the RIAA's membership actually want to make money from these lawsuits? No, they just want to scare you back into record shops to buy CDs again.

If the RIAA had its way they'd set the wayback machine to 1992 before the Internet really took off and it became child's play for people to trade files back and forth between each other. Now, I happen to believe that artists should be paid for their work. A lot of people seem to agree with me since, even though CDs still are the most popular way to distribute music, more than 35% of all music in 2009 was sold over the Internet.

Still, the RIAA continues its flood of lawsuits. Indeed, it welcomes such cases as Joel Tenenbaum's where the court first ruled that he should pay $675,000 for sharing music files. While the Tenenbaum judgment has since been reduced to $67,500, the sheer size of that initial fine is the kind of thing that the RIAA hopes will frighten your file-sharing socks off.

It would be so, so much better for music lovers if the RIAA would just get over this, and focus on embracing new online business models. Instead, they're still fixated on the idea that people want to buy albums rather than tracks, and that people actually don't buy music so much as they do rent the use of music for use on one device.

They'd be better off in the long run if they just embraced the EFF's (Electronic Freedom Foundation) Voluntary Collective Licensing approach. Unfortunately, I can't see that happening.

The RIAA is a lot like a buggy-whip manufacturer determined to make sure that no one can travel unless they also pay for a whip. Eventually, as CD sales continue their slow, but sure, collapse, the RIAA will have to change its tune.

While the RIAA has sworn off individual RIAA lawsuits for the moment, I still expect to see more lawsuits from them in the future.

In the meantime, though, it's now the movie industry's turn to start suing people. Voltage Pictures, producers of the Oscar-winning film "The Hurt Locker," has started suing 50,000 people for allegedly illegally sharing movie files. The 'deal' Voltage's lawyers are offering is to settle for $1,500 or face them in court where they'll be asking for up to $150,000. Ow!

I happen to really like that movie a lot, but this kind of broad-brush lawsuit attack really annoys me. It would be nice to see some proof, for example, that any of the 50,000 'John Does' have actually illegally downloaded the files. Or that in so doing they actually did $150,000 worth of damage per incident to the movie's revenue.

If you're ever stuck on the wrong end of an RIAA or a movie sharing lawsuit, I strongly suggest you check out the EFF's RIAA v. The People page. It's not easy to beat the industry at this game, but it can be done. Unfortunately, we're still stuck with this lawsuit happy media world for now.

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