September 5, 2008

File Sharing Lawsuits at a Crossroads, After 5 Years of RIAA Litigation

Despite a fallow legal landscape, most defendants cannot afford attorneys and settle for a few thousand dollars rather than risk losing even more, Beckerman says. "There are still very few people fighting back as far as the litigation goes and they settle."

"It costs more to hire a lawyer to defend these cases than take the settlement," agrees Lory Lybeck, a Washington State attorney, who is leading a prospective class-action against the RIAA for engaging in what he says is "sham" litigation tactics. "That's an important part of what's going on. 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."

Settlement payments can be made on a website, where the funds are used to sue more defendants. None of the money is paid to artists.

Now, isn't that interesting? None of the settlement money goes to the artists. Zero. Zip. Nada. So, if none of that money is going to the artists (and remember, we're told that downloading songs only hurts the artists) does that mean that the RIAA is getting filthy rich off of other people's work? Oh, wait. Yes, it does. But you already knew that.

Nobody can credibly dispute that file sharing systems are a superhighway for pirated music. "There is no doubt that the volume of files on P2P is overwhelmingly infringing," says Eric Garland, president of Los Angeles research firm BigChampagne. But critics of the RIAA say it's time for the music industry to stop attacking fans, and start looking for alternatives. Fred von Lohmann, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the lawsuits are simply not reducing the number of people trading music online.

"If the goal is to reduce file sharing," he says, "it's a failure."

It's difficult to admit that your business model is outdated when mega-fortunes have been made off of it for decades.

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