Friday, December 19, 2008

Your Friendly RIAA

News broke today that the RIAA is ending its five-year campaign to wipe out peer-to-peer file sharing through vigorous, if highly questionable, lawsuits against its own customers. Of course, they are not giving up the fight. No, now they are appealing to the major ISPs to help them root out the evil file sharers and take away their Internet service. They've gone from treating the public as guilty-until-proven-innocent criminals to treating the public as kindergartners who will have their toys taken away if they don't learn to play with them nicely.

On the one hand, this news is positive: it only took five years for the RIAA to figure out that their approach not only wasn't effective, it was counterproductive! In 2003, when the RIAA began the lawsuit campaign, there were estimated to be somewhere around 3,000,000 people in the US using P2P networks to share music. By 2007, there were closer to 9,500,000 - better than a 300% increase in P2P network population. This with the highly publicized monitoring of those P2P networks in full force.

Overall CD, vinyl and cassette sales during that same have famously plunged, from about $11 billion in 2003 to $7.5 billion in 2007. (To paraphrase Jello Biafra, could it be they've put out too many lousy records?) Tellingly, during the same period the RIAA's own sales numbers for "legal downloads" has grown dramatically, from $184,000,000 in 2004 (the first year for such reporting) to $1,250,000,000 in 2007 -- better than a 675% increase! (source)

On the other hand, is the new remedy the RIAA is choosing worse yet? After all, they are still going to identify "likely" violators with the same questionable methods they've always used. Now, they've conveniently eliminated the need for any due process whatsoever - or even the need to identify the owner of a given IP address! Now, they just go to the ISP and say "This IP address may have been sharing music files - cut their Internet service!" Just like that, your grandma in Tucson is bumped offline.

When will the RIAA learn? The marketplace isn't out to do them in, yet they seem always to have felt this way. Remember the "home taping is killing the music industry" campaigns in the '80s? Heck, if it weren't for hearing artists on tapes my friends made for me back then, I wouldn't have purchased half the albums in my collection!

What better way to market a band than through word-of-mouth? Aren't you more willing to give an unknown artist a listen when one of your buddies tells you, "Oh man, you've gotta hear this!" than you are even based on review you might read online or in a magazine? This is why P2P networks are so popular.

Would it be so difficult to create the RIAA's own "legitimate" P2P network? JR Raphael, in an article for PCWorld, suggests this very solution.

I think it's an outstanding idea. How about you?

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