That’s EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) lawyer Fred von Lohmann on the efforts of Vivendi Universal, EMI, Warner Music and Sony BMG and their RIAA to use the US civil legal system to terrorize people into abandoning P2P filesharing.
It comes in an excellent Wired story by David Kravets which says it’s now five years since the Big 4′s RIAA first launched its bizarre sue ‘em all marketing campaign against the Big 4′s own customers.
p2pnet was one of the first sites to run regular posts on the RIAA’s depredations against families across America, and the only one to point out how the entertainment cartel-inspired Joint Committee of Higher Education and Entertainment Communities was (and still is) used to turn US schools into corporate music marketing divisions and enforcement units, funded by taxpayers and using teachers and administrators as unpaid stuff.
Now, approaching 40,000 men, women and even young children have been on the wrong end of subpoenas initiated by the Big 4.
The labels claim they’re only trying to protect their investments — that files shared equal sales lost, an assertion roundly and efficiently dismissed in a number of authoritative studies.
The truth is: the multi-million-dollar campaign was launched not to stop file sharing, but to enable Vivendi Universal (France), Sony BMG (Japan and Germany), EMI (Britain), and Warner Music (US) to gain complete and total control of who distributes music online, and how they do it.
Behind the eight ball
Says Wired »»»
When the first round of lawsuits were filed on Sept. 8, 2003 — targeting 261 defendants around the country — it was a hairpin turn from the RIAA’s previous strategy of going after services like Napster, RIAA president Cary Sherman said at the time. “It is simply to get peer-to-peer users to stop offering music that does not belong to them.” The goal in targeting music fans instead of businesses was “not to be vindictive or punitive,” says Sherman. Today, the RIAA — the lobbying group for the world’s big four music companies, Sony BMG, Universal Music, EMI and Warner Music — admits that the lawsuits are largely a public relations effort, aimed at striking fear into the hearts of would-be downloaders. Spokeswoman Cara Duckworth of the RIAA says the lawsuits have spawned a “general sense of awareness” that file sharing copyrighted music without authorization is “illegal.”
“Think about what the legal marketplace and industry would look like today had we sat on our hands and done nothing,” Duckworth says in a statement. (The RIAA declined to be interviewed for this story.)
That’s easy. If the labels have been willing to enter 21st digital century as friendly competitors instead of venal sole owners, their shareholders would now be downloading the dollars by the bucket in every minute of every day.
Instead, dividends are only a shadow of what they might have been and the corporate labels are well and truly behind the eight ball, having shredded their credibility and single-handedly created a brand new consumer class of people who want absolutely nothing to do with the Big Music, or anything or anyone associated with it.
Kravets continues »»»
Casey Lentz, a 21-year-old former San Francisco State student, is among those caught in the RIAA’s PR campaign.
“They’re harassing me nonstop,” says Lentz, who’s been trying to settle her RIAA case, but can’t afford a lawyer. “I wasn’t the one who downloaded the music. It was a shared computer with my roommates and my friends. They want $7,500 for 10 songs.”
“I told them I only had $500 in my bank account. And they said ‘no way,’” she says.
But the story also has Ray Beckerman, the New York lawyer who’s probably been defending RIAA victims for longer than anyone else, saying, “There are still very few people fighting back as far as the litigation goes and they settle”; and, “It costs more to hire a lawyer to defend these cases than take the settlement,” agrees Lory Lybeck who, with RIAA victim Tanya Andersen, fought the Big 4 enforcement unit to a stand-still and is now in the middle of a prospective class-action against the RIAA.
“That’s an important part of what’s going on,” he says in the Wired story. “The recording industry is setting a price where you know they cannot hire lawyers. It’s a pretty well-designed system whereby people are not allowed any effective participation in one of the three prongs in the federal government.”
P2P = People to People
It’s the same everywhere. Companies and rich individuals can, and do, sue ordinary people with impunity in all kinds of legal disputes, knowing there’s no way defendants can match corporate legal and financial resources, or even begin to defend themselves adequately on level playing fields.
Kravets goes on to point out the RIAA’s only ‘victory’, against Minnesota mother Jammie Thomas, has turned out to be hollow, with Michael Davis, the judge who heard it, “expected any day to declare a mistrial”.
But, he adds, “The recording industry could try to prove, through forensic examination, that the shared files were pirated to begin with, i.e., that the defendant infringed copyright law by downloading the music, before sharing it again. It’s also possible the courts will find that — as the RIAA has argued — downloads by the RIAA’s investigators can be considered infringement by the file sharer; digital rights advocates counter the recording industry should not be able to pay investigators to make downloads of its own music, and then declare them unauthorized copies.”
And while the arguments go on, the most important element in the scenario is, as usual, being ignored — the people.
How many men, women and children have been turned off and turned away by the actions of the Big 4 not only in North America, but elsewhere in the world?
How much of the decline in corporate music sales is down not to increasing interest in games, online activities, and so on, but to the fact former ‘consumers’ just aren’t buying corporate product, any more, because they’ve lost all respect for the companies and everything they stand for?
Lost all respect. Is the phrase too strong? Or is it strong enough?
How effective are the actual cases against file sharers
So far, there’ve been no studies documenting precisely what effect the civil lawsuits have had on the music buying public.
It’d make an interesting project.
Meanwhile, how effective are the cases against file sharers?
Last spring I ran what I believe was the first, and is still the only, poll of its kind.
There were 1,077 responses from p2pnet readers to questions asking, among other things, “Have the RIAA sue ‘em all lawsuits persuaded you to stop sharing?”
No, said 1,013 of the answers.
That’s pretty definitive, I’d say.
Have things altered much since then?
I doubt it.
Meanwhile, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” said Margaret Mead, adding:
“Indeed – it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Jon Newton – p2pnet
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