Legal Group Spites RIAA, Defends P2P

Fending off an aggressive crusade by the recording industry to sue individual file-swappers, a San Francisco-based legal group Monday launched its “Let the Music Play” campaign.

The movement by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) counters the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) announcement that it will file thousands of lawsuits against individuals who use peer-to-peer (P2P) software like KaZaA, Grokster, and Morpheus.

The online non-profit, civil liberties organization is instead urging the more than 60 million U.S. citizens who use file-sharing software to demand changes in copyright law to get artists paid and make file-sharing legal.

“Copyright law is out of step with the views of the American public and the reality of music distribution online,” said EFF Executive Director Shari Steele. “Rather than trying to sue people into submission, we need to find a better alternative that gets artists paid while making file sharing legal.”

RIAA president Cary Sherman said his group would begin collecting evidence against users who share “substantial” amounts of copyrighted digital music and warned that thousands of lawsuits seeking monetary damages could be filed within eight to 10 weeks.

As an alternative, the EFF is suggesting using “compulsory licensing.” The system would charge the MP3 and CD-ROM manufacturers a special fee that would go to an escrow account and compensate musicians and composers based on usage. The EFF says the plan reconciles copyright law with the benefits of new technologies like cable television and webcasting.

The RIAA says compulsory licensing makes no sense saying the plan threatens efforts to develop new products and services, because it would give retransmission services an unfair competitive advantage. The record industry also says some some sort of federal regulatory body would be needed to set fees and make sure the money is distributed fairly.

EFF’s legal eagles say the approach has drawbacks, but says “it’s certainly better than the direction that the recording industry is taking us today.”

As part of its Let the Music Play campaign, the EFF is also advertising about the Right to Share campaign in print magazines to augment its online efforts.

StreamCast Networks, which developed P2P file-sharing software, Morpheus announced its support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) initiative.

“We do not condone copyright infringement, but we will not sit idly by and watch the recording industry trample on the rights and privacy of individuals,” said StreamCast CEO Michael Weiss. “While the recording industry calls file-sharers pirates, we have a much stronger name for them — VOTERS — and we will do whatever it takes to help them have their voices heard.”

However, supporters of P2P networks suffered a setback this week after the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that file-swapping site Aimster must remain shuttered while it battles against copyright infringement lawsuits filed by the major music labels.

EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann called the RIAA’s efforts “appalling.”

“Today, more U.S. citizens use file-sharing software than voted for President Bush,” von Lohmann said. “Congress needs to spend less time listening to record industry lobbyists and more time listening to the more than 60 million Americans who use file-sharing software today.”

News Around the Web