EFF has published the latest installment in its annual RIAA v. The People, "Four Years Later," which is a comprehensive, exhaustively researched and cited white-paper on the RIAA's campaign against music downloaders. The paper starts with the earliest days, when the record companies went after companies manufacturing portable music players, and continues up to the present day, with these companies suing tens of thousands of individual music fans (including people who don't own computers, small children, military servicepeople, dead people, etc), often for sums that end up bankrupting them. EFF describes other RIAA initiatives, such as a deceptive "amnesty" campaign, advising a MIT student to drop out of school in order to pay her fines, and using universities and Congress to try to shake down students for thousands of dollars.
Then the paper moves into a section on empirical studies of P2P activity during the four year campaign -- and shows that the "educational campaign" has been a total failure, with more Americans sharing files than ever, and downloading from P2P at forty times the rate that they use authorized download services like iTunes.
EFF closes by proposing a sensible solution -- stop suing fans and figure out how to make money off of their preferred means of acquiring music. To do this, EFF argues that the labels should offer a "blanket license" to fans or ISPs, a flat fee that legalizes downloading music, the proceeds from which can be paid to artists and other rightsholders. This is basically the same system used by radio stations and live venues to legalize their use of music and while it's not without its problems (the collection societies have a history of screwing indie artists and labels, and aggressively expanding their scope to include things like kindergarten classrooms), it sure beats the alternative -- sue, harass and alienate customers.
Or take the case of Cecilia Gonzalez, a recently laid-off mother of five, who
owes five major record companies a total of $22,500 for illegally downloading off the
Internet. That's more than three-fourths of what she made the previous year as a
secretary. Ironically, Gonzalez primarily downloaded songs she already owned on
CD--the downloads were meant to help her avoid the labor of manually loading the 250
CDs she owns onto her computer. In fact, the record companies are going after a steady
customer--Gonzalez and her husband spent about $30 per month on CDs.
Nevertheless, the RIAA insisted that it would not consider a settlement for less than
$3000, an amount that would bankrupt the Gonzalez family.54
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