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.

–Jason Albosta

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One Response to RIAA to Cease Filing Mass Copyright Infringement Lawsuits, But Will Continue Monitoring Private Online Music File Transfers

  1. penez says:

    Downloaders may be guilty as hell but A&R people are often worse than demons. For far too long artists have been ripping off material from small-time wannabes.
    What about a bit more self-policing instead? Too many musicians are encouraged or pressured to steal ideas from others; what is the industry doing about that, huh?

    What I am about to tell you sounds whacko however the truth sometimes just sounds that incredible. Between 1983 and 1986, I lived on 256 Vanderbilt Ave (#4L), Brooklyn, NY. I’d just graduated from Pratt Institute with a Master’s in Communications Design. Experimental music demos I made while I lived on Vanderbilt were copied by unidentified persons. Somehow, these persons contacted Sony Music and other big labels and they got hold of my material.

    I later heard, after my return in 1986 to Ghana, in hit songs from the U.S., lots of melodies I’d written–note-for-note. Guilty the most was LaFace Records and quite a few artists with Sony Music (Babyface, Boyz II Men – “End of the Road”, TLC – “Waterfalls”, Mariah Carey – “One Sweet Day”, Tony Rich, etc). I’d sung most of my material in nonsense lyrics and ad-lib; I was experimenting and didn’t worry to much about lyrical content. I even experimented with criss-cross drumbeat rhythms (from the Frafra and Dagare tribes), which found its way into and became mainstream R&B rhythmic material, courtesy of LaFace Records/Sony Music and others. There were silly, “radio drama” intros to songs that I concocted that Tony Rich used extensively as did several other guys. By sheer volume, I don’t think it is pure coincidence.

    A Ghanaian (now a U.S. citizen), currently working at Brandywine Assets Management (NJ) may know how my demos got to Sony Music. It is rumoured he worked there briefly. He was at Pratt Institute with me and often remarked that my songs had the potential to be blockbuster hits. I’ve been unable to contact him for an explanation. He wouldn’t reply my e-mail.

    Much later I heard other bits of my work, also note-for-note, in songs by Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, R. Kelly and Kirk Franklin’s work (”You’re Not Alone”; the van Passels lied; “My Heart Will Go On”; “I Believe I Can Fly”;”Lean On Me”, etc). I really don’t know how all those guys got hold of my stuff?

    Nobody believes me when I tell them this story. It’s simply unbelievable. But I have proof. I have over 40 hours of music I composed on old TDK and Sony cassettes. Technically, the magnetic tape recordings can easily be assessed as having been made in the mid-’80s. Further, any musicologist can listen to the tracks and tell from my musical signature (a kind of compositional fingerprinting) that their compositions even with the re-arrangements are a direct rip off. (My ideas may seem eclectic but that’s where my ideas were pushing me at the time).

    I’ve tried for over 15 years to get just anybody to listen to this fantastic story. I’ve hesitated pushing it too far because this all sounds a bit too kooky I guess. I’d always wanted a good investigative journalist and some brilliant lawyers to uncover the truth but couldn’t get anyone interested…and I don’t have the money either. Whatever it is, I don’t think all those ideas of mine being duplicated elsewhere is pure coincidence.

    Disregard the fact that I’m an African. I grew up listening to the best music of the ’60s and ’70s. I played in several bands as keyboard player and later as a bass player/ guitarist. And though self-taught I know I was pretty creative and original.

    Is anyone listening? The music industry should also focus on how to maintain the creative integrity of artists. That’s going to be difficult but it must be encouraged. Sure there’s tons of pressure and contracts and deals and all that and artists have to come up with something fantastic every now and then. But ripping off other people’s material is low, cheap, wrong and downright evil. Money drives the whole thing as I can see and that’s all right. But there’s the need for some fundamental change to how we get that money. Values may not mean much to business people but to me as an artist, hey, it’s important!

    When your creative juices stop flowing, what is fair is shifting gear, moving on to new partnerships or abandoning ship. Plagiarising other people’s material cannot credibly sustain any ‘talented’ artists’ career.

    The music industry giants should watch how sincere the artists they’ve signed up are and what their A&R guys are doing with all the solicited and unsolicited material. ‘And,’ as Shakespeare said, ‘there’s the rub,’