The music industry finally pulls the trigger

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at
Sat Sep 13 00:15:26 MDT 2003

The Recording Industry Association of America has finally decided to
pull the trigger by filing the first tranche of what they promise will
be thousands of lawsuits against those sharing files on the Internet. 

Unfortunately, they did not notice the gun was pointed at their own

In anyone needs more convincing that these clueless dinosaurs are simply
stampeding over the nearest cliff, giving a whole new meaning to the
word "downloading," just check out Slate's collection of cartoons on the

In filing the lawsuits, the music monopoly mafia claimed they were going
after "major infringers" who were offering and average of more than
1,000 songs for downloads. 

How did they, then, wind up with 12-year-old Brianna LaHara, an honor
roll student living with her single mom and her little brother in public
housing in el barrio, on the wanted poster?

Doing Google news searches earlier in the week showed there were many
other such cases. A 71-year-old grandfather in Texas who got an
internet-connected computer for the use of his grandsons was one such
case. They guy doesn't even do email. One of his adult sons talked to
the RIAA lawyers after they subpoenaed his ISP to get his name and
explained the situation to them. The music companies sued anyways.

Sophisticated users long ago took precautions to stay off the RIAA's
radar screen. They don't use Kazaa, but Kazaa Lite ++, which allows you
to turn off the function that allows others to see your entire
collection of shared material. They didn't share the top 40 hits by the
latest heart-throb because they knew the RIAA was looking for those.

The people sharing 1,000 songs are quite likely to be relatively
unsophisticated users. New computers come standard with 40 or 80 gig
drives, the 3-4 gigs of space taken up by 1,000 MP3's simply isn't going
to be noticed, not by an unsophisticated user. Moreover, the library
function of Kazaa itself as well as popular MP3 players make it quite
unnecessary to organize them into many different folders. So they all
wind up sitting in a shared folder.

Like on Brianna LaHara's computer.

Of course, as soon as they saw the headlines in the New York Post and
Daily News about Brianna Tuesday morning, the RIAA knew it had a
problem. So they contacted her mom and got a quickie settlement. The
RIAA claimed to have shafted her to the tune of $2,000; they also got
their agreement to have statements put out in the name of the mother and
daughter in an RIAA press release about how sorry they were and so on.

"These people make Joe Stalin look good," commented Wayne Rosso, head of
Grokster, essentially a renamed (under license) version of Kazaa. 

But perhaps the best line of the week was from the head of P2P United,
which brings together the publishers of several popular file trading
programs. "We don't condone copyright infringement, but it's time for
the RIAA's winged monkeys to fly back to the castle and leave the
munchkins alone," said Adam Eisgrau, executive director of the group.

Even Congress got into the act, holding a hearing on the RIAA's
strong-arm tactics. "Are you headed to junior high schools to round up
the usual suspects?" asked Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois as the
questioning was winding down.

So rather than quickly removing the case from the spotlight, the RIAA
succeeded in indelibly branding its campaign as a strong-arm shakedown
of middle schoolers. Brilliant! 

There are at least three different web sites set up that are collecting
donations to pay Brianna's $2000 settlement, and  both Grokster head
Rosso and P2P United have offered to make the family whole. A Rochester
DJ is ponying up the money for legal fees. And one of the music monopoly
mafia's authorized download services has given Brianna a $2,000 credit
for downloads.

What's even more striking is that the legal offensive by the RIAA had,
of course, the very predictable effect of driving even more people to
the file-sharing networks. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's
recommendations for how not to get sued (turn off sharing your own
files) have been widely publicized, and even 12-year-olds are getting
very street wise. 

Telling the munchkin story to one of my daughter's friends, the girl
said they'd never catch her because she had turned off people uploading
from her. She also said something else that should make record company
executives start to think about what sort of display they want at the
Smithsonian (I recommend one right next to the player pianos): "I've got
to download, because I'm never buying another CD ever again after what
they've done." 


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