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The Court of Public Opinion

Can the RIAA sue individuals for copyright infringement? Yes, obviously they are. The RIAA was apparently of the opinion that lawsuits against children and grandparents potentially costing targets MILLIONS (at the rate of up to $150,000 per infringement) would cow and shame the nation into changing both their behavior and attitudes regarding file sharing. Primarily, it has pissed people off, including those the RIAA thought were on its side, like Republican senators:

    Sen. Norm Coleman said Thursday he will push legislation this year to reduce legal penalties for people who download copyrighted music off the Internet.

    Coleman, R-Minn., said current penalties, which range from $750 to $150,000 per downloaded song, are excessive and enough to scare innocent people into settling lawsuits filed by the recording industry.

    “I can tell you that $150,000 per song is not reasonable, and that’s technically what you can put in front of somebody,” Coleman said in a conference call with reporters. “That forces people to settle when they may want to fight, but they’re thinking, ‘goodness, gracious, what am I going to face?’”

    Coleman said he will also press for changes in federal law to reign in the recording industry’s subpoena power.

    The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows the industry to obtain subpoenas, without a judge’s signature, to track and sue people who download songs. Coleman said he would like to allow for some judicial review. [Guardian]

Oops, that wasn’t what we were looking for, was it Cary and Mitch?

Equally importantly, the moves are simply alienating the public, their customers:

    I’m not debating the right of artists and their recording companies to protect copyrighted material, but such a ham-fisted approach leaves me wondering: How could they be so stupid?

    Here’s how: They relied on the long-established legal mantra, “protect our intellectual property at any cost,” with little thought to that tactic’s public effects. In the short term, it no doubt will cut Internet theft of copyrighted material. But suing their own customers? A customer base largely made up of cynical teens and twentysomethings already skeptical of hyper-aggressive corporate greed?

    It’s a lesson for all lawyers – and their clients: In this media age, legal maneuvers that once worked so well behind courtroom doors can have embarrassing long-term consequences now that they’re under the glare of the public spotlight.

    ….Some of the country’s best lawyers have a tin ear about the public impact of their legal strategies, probably because most were trained in the 1970s or early 1980s – before 24-hour cable news, the Internet and the explosion of business and legal news coverage. In today’s media-saturated environment, their education and experience are as outdated as rotary phones.

    But the smart ones learn fast. Lawyers and clients are realizing that if a legal team isn’t considering public opinion as well as the law, it is doing a grave disservice to itself, its clients and the case. [USA Today]

Duh.

About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.martinlitho.com Ralph Del Rio

    The problem with RIAA is not their position but the fact that they were extremely slow off the block and they have given up on fostering talent. There is a law of diminishing returns in effect. It’s not the back catalogs they are concerned about. It’s the new releases. Fans have always swaped albums, made tapes, bought bootlegs. So it has never been theft in the eyes of the fans. It’s also a reaction to the prices at mall $18 dollars a CD is just plain obscene. The question is who are the enablers? The shutting down of Napster was a good first step. With the radio stations not playing the best music, alot of bands are hitting the road knowing that touring is the best and most traditional way to getting the word out on the music. Without being selfish, it is fundamentally important that the RIAA win this battle or at the minimum come up with some kind of structure with the ISP’s and the major internet gateway controllers to allow there to be a way to account for the fleeceing that will continue to occur. Jailing will not work. The thought may scare some; but is it enforceable without backlash? Eventually it will not be a First Ammendment issue. But you have to take a big swing at the plate when conventional methods are not stopping the bleeding. Not to mention all the pirated music in the Far East and Latin America. Apple’s Imusic is a concept that is generating steam. Although it is very cool to be able to download a CD and get it for free; there is something that is not very healthy if we want the music industry to survive. Most of what we have in America is based on property rights. It is that essential core that needs to be defended by all. People need jobs of course and those rights are what meed to be defended by all because one day it could be your own personal property or idea that is at stake and it would be a cold day in hell for all if property rights lost their meaning. Now should the Music Industry’s practices on how it treats its artists improved? Probably yes, but that is another story.

  • Eric Olsen

    Ralph, lots of good points, but I don’t think it is the concept of intellectual property rights that is at stake here. I think people really do see music as different form others kinds of intellectual property like movies, software, books. People are used to getting music for free over the radio, while they are willing to pay for new movies in the theater, via pay cable, DVD’s and videocassettes even though there are “free” movies all the time on TV.

    I think the new pay music services coming online will help, but I still think the final answer is some kind of flat fee model as discussed here, where some of your same concerns are also addressed.