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RIAA Subpoenas ISPs For User Names of Music Downloading Clients Print E-mail
Monday, 28 July 2003
The New York Times has reported that the RIAA has acquired nearly 1,000 subpoenas needed to find the identity of users who have presumably downloaded music illegally on 12 different Internet services, including Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and a number of universities, including MIT and Boston College. According to the Times, some of the targets of the RIAA include the parents of a 14-year-old boy who reportedly downloaded 150 songs on Napster years ago. The boy was subsequently punished by his parents with (among other things) loss of his computer privileges for the rest of the summer.

The RIAA is very serious about their role as the “bad cop” in the good cop/bad cop relationship they have with the major record labels and this action sets a new standard for how aggressive they are willing to get to prove their point. It is unlikely that the RIAA is going to be able to collect on the $75,000 to $150,000 fine per song with all of the users they have subpoenaed, but they will be able to make a loud and clear statement to consumers who were early adopters to music file-swapping. The question is, exactly what statement is the RIAA making? Their threats could encourage a healthy number of the people on the Gnutella file-sharing network to cease their downloading and begin paying for songs on sites like the new BuyMusic.com, Apple’s iTunes and the soon to be relaunched (pay version) of Napster. With only a sampling of songs from major and indie artists on the download sites, customers of download sites still seek rare tunes on the Gnutella-based services. Even worse, the threat of lawsuits might anger hacker-type users to lash out against the labels and the RIAA, which could easily lead to a dramatic increase in availability in songs on the Gnutella network. This could come just as pay-per-download sites are catching on.

The worst part of the RIAA’s move is that they have yet to openly and repeatedly endorse a new high-resolution, surround sound-based music format such as DVD-Audio or (pure DSD) SACD, which are both very difficult to rip to MP3 files. Telling customers what they are doing is “bad” is one level of solving the downloading problem that plagues the music business, but with a lack of titles on download sites and at best a half-hearted commitment to the SACD and DVD-Audio formats, the RIAA and its supporters are not offering enough in the way of good, legal ways to buy exciting new music. In the end, the RIAA’s biggest beneficiary could be the motion picture business, which is currently selling feature packed $22 DVD-Video movies in record quantities.

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