RIAA to Stop Suing Illicit Music Downloaders

Published March 1, 2009

The Recording Industry Association of America has announced it will stop suing individuals who download music without paying for it and will instead pressure Internet service providers to protect copyrights.

The shift may end years of negative publicity for the organization, which has been harshly criticized for punishing individuals—often college students and minors—with hefty fines. RIAA has brought civil suits against some 35,000 people since 2003.

A proper balance between protecting copyrighted intellectual property and allowing individuals the freedom to share music in the digital age remains elusive.

Welcome Change

Gennady Stolyarov II, tech expert and editor-in-chief of the Rational Argumentator Web site, welcomes RIAA’s change in strategy, which was announced at the start of the year.

“The RIAA’s attempts to collaborate with ISPs to block individual file-sharers is a less-intrusive and certainly less-damaging strategy than the lawsuits were,” said Stolyarov.

“ISPs have an interest in retaining as many customers as possible, and an enormous number of people share files via the Internet. Complete collaboration with the RIAA will result in huge losses of customers for ISPs, as well as considerable reputational damage due to the resulting public outcry and resentment,” Stolyarov said. “Thus, ISPs will most likely collaborate only halfheartedly and will occasionally make ‘examples’ of particularly prolific file-sharers.

“Most people will continue sharing files in peace, as they have done in the days of the lawsuits—when only a minuscule fraction of all file-sharers actually faced any penalties,” Stolyarov said.


Downloads Increased Anyway

One of RIAA’s goals is to stigmatize Internet music piracy, and the organization thought suing individual downloaders was a good way to do it. But since the group started its aggressive crackdown, the amount of music shared via peer-to-peer outlets has increased.

By publicizing the prevalence of piracy, the crackdown may have helped encourage it. Stolyarov says RIAA’s deterrence strategy may have backfired by angering music fans.

“The past lawsuits against individual file-sharers were a draconian travesty of justice even if one can otherwise make a case for [them as an attempt to protect] ‘intellectual property,'” Stolyarov said. “After all, charging individuals millions of dollars for illegally downloading songs is nowhere near a proportionate response.

“Surely, the music industry did not lose millions of dollars of revenue due to the downloads of any particular user,” Stolyarov said. “[Economist] Murray Rothbard’s ‘two teeth for a tooth’ rule would have allowed the RIAA to only sue individual file-sharers for at most twice the monetary damage that their downloads caused to the firms whose ‘intellectual property’ rights they violated.”