New Round of RIAA Lawsuits

There’s an old saying, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” No truer words have been spoken since Jesus roamed the Earth. And the P2P and file-sharing world are no strangers to bad publicity from the RIAA and its member companies since the inception of Napster. When it comes to bad publicity, few other technology topics come close to amount of rhetoric spilled by the copyright industry. Indeed, Napster was the very first target of the RIAA’s public relations campaign. As many seasoned file-traders know by now, Napster was the first mainstream P2P network, which helped revolutionize Internet communications.

“This is not just about online versus offline,” said Hilary Rosen, former president and CEO of the RIAA back in April of 2000. “Most in the online business community recognize that what Napster is doing threatens legitimate e-commerce models – and is legally and morally wrong.”

Negative publicity of course didn’t stop with Napster. ScourExchange earned the scorn of the MPAA (Motion Picture Associate of America) for allegedly promoting the wholesale distribution of movies and videos. ScourExchange, which co-existed with Napster, was an impressive P2P network, which many felt was superior to the reigning king. “This lawsuit is about stealing,” MPAA president Jack Valenti said in July of 2000. “Technology may make stealing easier, but it doesn’t make it right.”

After most of the centralized P2P networks were wiped out, a new breed of technology would sweep across the file-sharing landscape. Communities that relied on greater distributed networking principals such as Gnutella, FastTrack, eDonkey2000 and BitTorrent soon carried the torch passed on by Napster.

Yet their more distributed nature did not detract from the RIAA/MPAA negative publicity campaign. In fact, these newer methods of distribution would help foster a renewed commitment in thwarting file-sharing.

Although suing P2P developers was not a new tactic, the inability to simply shut down a centralized server “forced” the RIAA to sue individual members of the file-sharing community. On June 26, 2003, the RIAA announced on behalf of its members (such as Sony Music), its intentions to hold the file-sharing population directly responsible. This, in addition to the lawsuit against iMesh was designed to tackle the ever-growing P2P problem.

“There’s a growing awareness that taking music that is not yours off the Internet can have real consequences and people are beginning to think twice before doing it,” RIAA CEO and Chairman Cary Sherman said back in 2003.

Since then approximately 15,500 individuals have been threatened with being taken to court by RIAA member companies such as Sony Music. The MPAA has also announced its own litigation campaign, albeit a considerably slower paced affair. The MPAA’s negative publicity campaign has been tightly focused around the “You can click, but you can’t hide” mantra. This message has accompanied virtually every MPAA enforcement action, indexing site shut down, and press release.

Immoral, responsible, libel, infringing, theft, stealing…these are the words the RIAA and MPAA most closely associate with file-sharing. Adding to this negative publicity campaign, the RIAA announced today the filing of an additional 745 individual. Included in this latest round of lawsuits were an undisclosed number of Internet2 users.

With all the negative publicity, the promotion of “legitimate” music services, and the flamboyant touting of MGM’s Supreme Court victory over Grokster, the growth of file-sharing has grown unabated. In fact, many have argued the RIAA’s and MPAA’s actions are only encouraging individuals to participate in file-sharing. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, and the near tripling of the file-sharing population since mid-2003 certainly lays support to this notion.


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