RealTime IT News

Could Users Be the Next Target of the RIAA?

With online music piracy continuing at a tremendous pace despite major efforts to shut down the sites and P2P networks that foster it, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) may be embarking upon a major shift in its battle plan.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the "big five" recording companies, working through the RIAA, are moving toward filing copyright lawsuits that would target the highest volume song providers within services which allow people to grab songs without paying artists or labels.

Up until now, the RIAA has focused its legal battles on the various P2P file swapping sites providing music for free download over the Internet, while directing public relation campaigns towards the users of these services.

According to the WSJ, the recording-industry trade association is still in the early stages of planning its efforts. The labels are discussing what actions should trigger such suits, including exactly what a music uploader would have to do to become a target. Top record-label executives agreed in a trade association meeting a few weeks ago that they would move toward preparing suits that would focus on individuals who supply the biggest amounts of music, as well as so-called "supernodes," or people who provide the centralized directories that enable online music-sharing.

Officials at the RIAA could not be reached for comment.

Although this is the first time the group has legally targeted users, it is not the RIAA's first attempt at addressing the issue from the user-side. Late last year a lobbyist for the RIAA attempted to target users' hard drives, proposing to attach legislation to the PATRIOT Act that would leave open the possibility of hacking into users computers to erase pirated MP3s.

The "big five" music companies that make up the RIAA, have been slow to move in creating feasible alternatives for digital distribution, and have faced poor sales on their two existing online subscription offerings, MusicNet and pressplay. The companies blame the slow movement largely on the piracy itself.

"What business can invest in the content and infrastructure required to give consumers new choices if pirated versions of the same content are available for free," Cary Sherman, RIAA senior executive vice-president and general counsel said in a recent interview with BusinessWeek. "It's true for music and it will be true for other forms of creative content. That's why everyone has a stake in providing some sort of balanced solution."

While major victories against Napster and MP3.com have won the RIAA much press, they have done little to stop other players from quickly replacing the ousted sites. KaZaA and MusicCity (the creator of Morpheus) have both logged over 90 million downloads through download.com.

In a legal memorandum discovered last year, the association laid groundwork for litigating against the new top players, FastTrack, KaZaA, MusicCity (moprpheus), and Grockster for secondary liability for copyright infringement. The memorandum noted that the claims were not as strong as those against Napster, but they were also not so remote as to be wishful.