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It seems that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has finally learned the lesson that rampant litigation has a tendency to rack up more costs than are justified by the potential award of damages. In the RIAA’s five-year-long crusade against illegal uploaders of copyrighted music on the Internet, it has sued approximately 35,000 people in a process that has been derided by critics as ineffective and an invasion of privacy. As discussed in a previous post, last month the RIAA announced that it will cease filing mass copyright infringement lawsuits. It also just recently declared that it has parted ways with its former information collection partner, MediaSentry. However, the RIAA says it will still litigate outstanding lawsuits, continue to collect information regarding file transfers of copyrighted music, and potentially sue individuals it believes are transferring excessively large numbers of music files. Denmark company DtecNet Software ApS will now collect information on the RIAA’s behalf.
Until recently, the RIAA discovered alleged violators of copyright laws through MediaSentry, which searched for IP addresses that appeared to be transferring copyrighted music files. MediaSentry would accomplish this by searching through the music that a potential offender had made available online and downloading copyrighted songs. Armed with this information, the RIAA would then contact the IP address’s Internet service provider (ISP) and request the identity of the person associated with the address. However, some ISPs refused to cooperate with the RIAA’s demands, eventually leading to a lawsuit filed by the RIAA against Verizon to force the company to disclose customers’ identities. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Verizon and held that ISPs are not required to disclose customer information because the types of file transfers in question do not directly involve an ISP’s computers. This effectively meant that the RIAA could either sue alleged infringers by filing a claim against a fictitious defendant and later learn the person’s name during discovery, or only sue the people whose identities were voluntarily turned over by their ISP. The result was a more expensive litigation process that could less accurately identify a mere fraction of individuals engaged in peer-to-peer file transferring (which constitutes an estimated 18-35% of all Internet traffic). Embarrassing lawsuits included actions against people without computers, a 13-year-old girl, and a dead grandmother.
While making no mention of its modified copyright protection tactics on its website, the RIAA now plans to work more closely with ISPs to find a better solution. The RIAA will continue to monitor IP addresses that transact in copyrighted music files, but upon discovering such an IP address, the RIAA will now simply request that the person cease their allegedly illegal activity by sending an e-mail to the ISP which will be forwarded to the individual associated with the address. If this notice is not effective, other e-mails may follow. If those also prove ineffective, the cooperating ISP will stop providing Internet access to that person; the RIAA will never be apprised of anyone’s name or personal information.
This tactic has curried some favor with civil rights advocates, but some still disagree with the practice of gathering information about the contents of peoples’ computers because of privacy concerns and the dubious probative value of the collected evidence. The RIAA attempts to use the downloads, which until recently had been made by MediaSentry as evidence of the alleged offender’s illegal uploading of all the copyrighted songs on their computer. Critics argue that this evidence does not substantiate the claim that the uploader shared copyrighted music with anyone other than MediaSentry. Moreover, they wish to see the RIAA discontinue its lawsuits that are currently in progress. While there is certainly more room for progress in this contentious area of intellectual property law, it is encouraging to see the RIAA abandon its use of intimidating and borderline abusive legal tactics which frightened many people into settling their cases lest they incur enormous legal expenses.
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