Gone too far:
Just who is the RIAA?
P2P music file-sharing controversy
The RIAA has been at the heart of the peer-to-peer MP3 file-sharing controversy. Its attempts to defend the interests of its members have been viewed by some as detrimental to the interests of both consumers and artists, and benefiting only the larger record labels which comprise the RIAA. Opponents of the RIAA claim that the trade group is in effect a cartel which artificially inflates and fixes prices for CDs. Such allegations note that the Big Four (EMI, Sony-BMG, Universal Music, and Warner) distribute at least 95 percent of all music CDs sold worldwide.
Hilary Rosen, the RIAA's president and chief executive officer from 1988 to 2003, was an outspoken critic of peer to peer file sharing, and under her direction, the RIAA has waged an aggressive legal campaign to halt the practice.
The digitisation of music and the availability of inexpensive digital communications and file-swapping technologies are disruptive technologies and have led, arguably, to a crisis of confidence for the recording industry. Some people believe that these technologies may remove the need for physical distribution of recorded music altogether, threatening the existence of many of the large conglomerates that currently dominate the marketing and distribution of music. The RIAA contends that unregulated file-swapping is "piracy".
The RIAA adduces as evidence statistics such as "Surveys in all major markets prove [file-sharing] is a major factor in the fall in world music sales, down 7% in 2003, and down 14% in three years." (Cary Sherman, RIAA president). The RIAA's claim conflicts with figures provided by Soundscan, the Nielsen company responsible for compiling the Billboard music charts, which suggest that US sales rose by 10% from 147 million in the 1st quarter of 2003 to 160 million in the 1st quarter of 2004. The difference is that the RIAA uses statistics on shipments to record shops; Soundscan measures sales to end users. By way of oversimplified analogy, the following situation is being claimed as a drop in sales: 1,000 CDs were shipped last year to shops, and 700 sold. This year only 930 CDs were shipped to shops but 770 were sold.
The RIAA has sought to protect its members' interests by political lobbying for changes in copyright and criminal law, and by litigation under existing laws. As a result, the RIAA's members now have special laws enacted in the United States to protect and reinforce their business models. These include the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. These laws are helping them to sue many large peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks, however to date there has not been a successful US lawsuit against one of the major 'decentralised' file-sharing networks.
The RIAA's extreme unpopularity with certain segments of the Internet community has made its website a popular target for malicious hackers, and it has been repeatedly broken into and defaced. Indeed one virus variant was designed for the sole purpose of instituting a distributed denial-of-service attack on the RIAA's web server.
Many people believe that the RIAA has done little to garner positive goodwill from consumers- such as the now-infamous lawsuit against 12-year-old Brianna LaHara. Some believe that their primary goal is to retain the status quo and prevent lowered recording and distribution costs from reaching consumers. To these observers, they appear to spend a considerable amount of money lobbying lawmakers to enact legislation that erodes fair use rights and turns the tables on the "copyright bargain," the social contract that allows artists the right to prevent copying of their works—a right that some think of as contrary to natural law—in exchange for the promotion of science and the useful arts.)
Recently, several industry companies as well as RIAA opponents have claimed that the group artificially expands its membership by listing companies which are not member of RIAA, and do not wish to be. Boycott-RIAA.com (http://www.Boycott-RIAA.com)founder Bill Evans noted that the RIAA's website began listing both Matador Records and Lookout Records on its website as members. (http://www.p2pnet.net/article/7498)However, neither company is actually a member. While Evans may seem to many as a biased, unreliable source, both companies confirmed his story.
Matador Records' Patrick Armory stated that the company is not an RIAA member and does not wish to be. He said this was not the first time they had been listed erroneously on the site. In order to remedy the situation, he said, "I've now sent them three, count them, emails demanding that we be removed! But to no avail." Armory contacted Amy Weiss of the RIAA, a former deputy press secretary to Bill Clinton, but received no response. The listing was then removed two days later, however. At that time, Bill Evans claims Lookout Records contacted him to say that their name had just been added to the list.
* Nielsen Rating System At Odds With RIAA's Claim Of "Lost Sales" (http://www.kensei-news.com/bizdev/publish/factoids_us/article_23374.shtml) - Music Dish - Moses Avalon
P2P child pornography campaign
On September 6, 2003, the RIAA started a campaign against peer to peer programs, claiming that they facilitated child pornography. RIAA President Cary Sherman told the U.S. Senate that adults could use P2P networks to lure children into having sex. He added, "A significant percentage of the files available to these 13 million new users [of P2P networks] per month are pornography, including child pornography." News story (http://news.com.com/2100-1028_3-5073817.html).
This is being viewed by many in the Internet community as an attempt to discredit P2P networks by associating them with something that stops any defense against the claim (anyone defending peer to peer would risk being accused of supporting child pornography) and is likely to make some people (e.g. parents) turn their attention to this subject with a view to banning P2P.
Some people view this as hypocrisy, arguing that the past actions of RIAA members show that they are willing to "exploit" children by exposing them to songs that parents might find unsuitable. A Commentary (http://www.nindy.com/sonyporn.html) and a News story (http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/6/32762.html).
It is also argued against the RIAA argument that the postal system, the photographic film and camera makers, candy makers, and public roads all help child pornography to be made and/or distributed, and that P2P is nothing new in that regard.
Timeline of RIAA lawsuits
* July 17, 2003 - RIAA CEO Cary Sherman unveiled a sweeping plan to file subpoenas against file traders which will lead to lawsuits. SBC Communications has filed a lawsuit trying to stop the subpoenas. Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman has also launched a hearing into the RIAA's tactics.
* September 8, 2003 - Several member companies of the RIAA sued 261 individuals for copyright violations. RIAA also announced an amnesty program, where users can submit a notarized statement saying that they will no longer engage in file-sharing, and that they must delete all illegally-downloaded music from their hard drives. According to the RIAA, if users do this, they will not be sued by the RIAA (others have noted that signing the statement doesn't prevent people being sued by the actual copyright-holders of the music, who are typically not the RIAA  (http://cnet.com.com/2100-1027_3-5073972.html)).
* RIAA press release (http://www.riaa.com/news/newsletter/090803.asp)
* September 9, 2003 - It was revealed that among those sued was Brianna LaHara, a 12 year old girl living with her mother in a city Housing Authority apartment. The next day, the RIAA settled with the family for $2000. It was speculated that the fast resolution of the dispute and the low amount of the monetary settlement (the RIAA often claims damages up to $150,000 for each song), were intended to avoid negative public relations that could result from this story. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,96797,00.html) (http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&cid=501&u=/ap/20030909/ap_on_en_mu/downloading_music_11&printer=1).
* September 10, 2003 - A P2P trade group P2P United offered to cover the $2000 settlement on behalf of the LaHara family.
* October 21, 2003 - A backlash against the filesharing suits grew, a coalition of more than 100 websites (Stop RIAA Lawsuits) called for a boycott of all RIAA music in protest of the lawsuits.
* December 19, 2003 - A federal appeals court ruled the recording industry can't force Internet providers to identify subscribers swapping music online, dramatically setting back the industry's anti-piracy campaign. As a result of this ruling, the RIAA is currently naming as defendants in their lawsuits "John Doe", identified only with their ISP addresses.