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
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
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

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.

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