Home / Culture and Society / Science and Technology / “The music industry has chosen a few unfortunate people and decided to make examples of them by suing them for large amounts of money”

“The music industry has chosen a few unfortunate people and decided to make examples of them by suing them for large amounts of money”

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Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) was online yesterday in a live chat via Washingtonpost.com to talk about his efforts to rein in the recording industry’s legal war against people who share copyrighted material without permission:

    washingtonpost.com: Good morning Senator Coleman, thanks for joining us today. The war over online file swapping has been escalating in recent months, as was made clear a hearing you presided over last month. Having failed in efforts to shut down networks like Kazaa and Morpheus, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has mounted a legal blitz against individuals who trade songs online. The RIAA says the lawsuits are among the few effective tools they have to combat music piracy, but you and others have expressed concern about their tactics. Can you describe your concerns?

    Sen. Norm Coleman: Good morning. It’s great to be here. I’ve noted publicly that law and technology in this area seem out of sync. This forum is a great opportunity for policy and technology to be in sync.

    First we recognize that file sharing is wrong. It is taking without compensation someone else’s property.

    But the question is how do you stop what 60 million Americans are already doing? I have three concerns about the RIAA approach.

    First, the broad grant of subpoena authority has the potential to sweep in folks who may not have done anything wrong.

    Second, the civil penalties in this area, including fines up to $150,000 per song, are clearly excessive. They can be used to intimidate and threaten folks who may or may not have done anything wrong.

    Finally, I also have concerns about the impact on personal privacy protection. The technology used by the RIAA and P2P networks has the potential to undermine personal privacy protections.


    Bangor, Me.: What’s your reaction to the RIAA’s latest news that they will send warning letters before dumping lawsuits on suspected file sharers?

    Sen. Norm Coleman: Good first step. This action still doesn’t solve the underlying concerns I raised before. You are not going to change the behavior of 60 million people through the use of lawsuits alone.


    Macon County Line: I heard you want to introduce a bill that would affect the recording industry’s campaign against file sharing. What will it do?

    Sen. Norm Coleman: We anticipate having one more hearing before we begin looking at legislation. There is existing legislation that would change the subpoena process. I am in support of that in concept, but we need to hear from some of the technology companies before we finalize any legislative approach.

    I do not believe the solution to this problem lies simply in legislation.


    Lyme, Conn.: It is my understanding the music industry has chosen a few unfortunate people and decided to make examples of them by suing them for large amounts of money in hopes of deterring others. Wouldn’t it be more effective, and fairer, if the industry sought smaller fines from a larger number of people? If people thought they could actually be caught and could face reasonable penalties, wouldn’t that deter more people?

    Sen. Norm Coleman: That is a very reasonable approach and one we are looking at closely. The punishment needs to fit the crime.


    Greenfield, Mass.: How do you feel about the RIAA blaming online music piracy for their drop in sales. Do you think other factors, like the economy, could be just as much to blame?

    Sen. Norm Coleman: The online piracy is certainly a factor in sales reduction, however so are high prices. It is clear that consumers deserve to have more safe, legal, affordable online downloading options.


    Lansing, Mich.: Do you think that the recording industry is in part to blame for the current degree of piracy of copyrighted music? What I do not understand is why it has taken approximately two years since the shutdown of Napster for a convenient legal outlet for mp3s to emerge, such as Apple’s iTunes. I do not know if the executives of the music industry ever tried listening to mp3s on their computers and realized that this was a extremely convenient way to listen to music (more so than compact discs) that was here to stay.

    Sen. Norm Coleman: I do believe the industry should have more aggressively addressed consumer needs a long time ago.

    ….Salt Lake City, Utah: I have heard many people say that it’s not stealing if you don’t sell it. How do we educate the public?

    Sen. Norm Coleman: First, the P2P can do a better job of letting users know that trading copyrighted music online is illegal.

    Secondly, the industry should use the same moxie it employs to sell its music, to educate consumers.

    Third, we all have to recognize the challenge of educating young people that something that technology makes so easy; that you can’t touch or feel, is still wrong.


    Washington, D.C.: Gartner reports that a substantial number of P2P users utilize the same to “sample” music. How often have you bought a $20 album, only to find a single song worth listening to. This accounts for the popularity of “listening posts” popular at music stores. Do you think industry is missing the opportunity to use P2P as a marketing tool?

    Sen. Norm Coleman: Yes.

Damn, this guy’s smart – I’d vote for him.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.
  • Yes, he sure is smart. If I were a citizen in his country, and a resident of his state, I’d probably vote for him too. But that (R) next to his name may be a potential stumbling block. 😀

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Danny, over the years I have come to realize that there is such a vast range within the “D’s” and the “R’s” as to render the terms almost meaningless in terms of predicting positions or behavior. For example, based upon policies, Arnold is such a “big tent Republican” that he is furtherleft than many Democrats.

  • BB

    It is so refreshing to find a politician that actually has a brain. It seems that the good Senator has been reading my posts 😉 Hurrah for online journalism. Vive la boycott.

  • I think the most important thing in this is that he says “First we recognize that file sharing is wrong. It is taking without compensation someone else’s property.”

    I feel like a lot of people around here are trying to justify their downloading based on the extreme punishment techniques of the RIAA. Just because a service isn’t offered yet doesn’t give you free reign to steal. And that is where I think I tend to disagree with most of the people. I think the RIAA is going about it incorrectly too, but I am not using it as a justification for my wrong-doing and then calling it civil disobedience.

    Maybe I have misinterpreted how some of you really feel. Tell me if I am wrong. (I know you will anyway!)

  • I am one who considers file sharing theft. And theft is most assuredly wrong. So are the RIAA’s tactics, but that doesn’t justify theft.

  • Eric Olsen

    Craig, as we have discussed in this regard, there is wrong and there is WRONG. I think file sharing without permission is wrong but not WRONG. And there are all kinds of degrees: I do believe that an awful lot of people do use file sharing as a convenient, community-based sampling method, and if they like a reasonable number of songs on an album they buy it. Is this wrong? Technically yes, but just barely. right now the law doesn’t reflect all kinds of realities and needs to be redrawn, updated, and just plain changed.

    File sharing (on the unabashedly positive side) has forced debate on these matters, has forced down the price of CDs, and will likely get some very bad laws changed.

    Since I do care about aritsts, songwriters, and about the rank-and-file guys at the labels, AND I care about consumer rights, privacy rights, due process, AND respect for the law, I want to see some kind of tax or blanket fee for access to broadband and/or hardware on an all-you-can-eat basis that forms a pool to compensate copyright holders a la ASCAP. It’s the only answer to all of the questions.

  • Hopefully this debate ends up being a footnote in the history of how a great system was created.

    Just to look ahead a bit, I hope that some of this planning and change in legislation also takes care of online broadcasting and streaming because it won’t be long before radio is obliterated by the internet as it becomes available to portable radios and cars.

  • BB

    I also agree that theft is wrong, but in the alternative neither does that justify the RIAA’s tactics. You see the bottom line is innocent people are being hurt and that is wrong. Even an intellectual property lawyer will tell you the definition of theft is when the owner has been deprived of its possession. Check out Kevin Heller, Esq.’s explanation at http://techlawadvisor.com/#106643885755174557 (by the way he has also joined the boycott). Eric has also argued this point. There are other ways the industry can tackle this problem. It is time the industry stopped its thuggery and embraced the age of technology instead of wielding it as a club. It is my hope that our efforts will help move it in the right direction.

  • Bill

    I’d like to correct some fallacies:

    1. IP is not PROPERTY, and copyright violation is not theft.

    2. Music sharing is NOT WRONG, it simple human nature. You’re free to try to make money off of culture, but legislating human nature is not the way to do it.

    3. This has nothing to do with technology, it’s the LAWS that are out of sync with human nature.

    Once you concede IP is the same as REAL property, you’ve already lost. The RIAA owns that music; they’re merely doing what they need to protect it, and all P2P systems would need to be shut down. For that matter, the internet itself would need to be re-engineered to reflect idea-ownership principals.

  • “Music sharing is NOT WRONG, it simple human nature.”

    This is where our opinions differ. Music sharing in its current form IS wrong. The fact that there isn’t a good alternative yet isn’t justification for wrongdoing in the present.

    Human nature is to get things with as little a cost to you personally, and that is why the RIAA is presenting a cost, no matter how you or I feel about it. But obtaining things like music on a network for free with no plan for compensation is wrong. Human nature is to do something as long as you can get away with it.

    Filesharing may not be wrong, but music sharing is in its current form.

  • BB

    My Momma always told me it is wrong to get something for nothing. She also said something about a box of chocolates …

    By the way, did I miss something or did Bill contradict himself?

  • BB

    I would be willing to wager retail outlets are influencing the RIAA. After all, (excepting certain addicts who need the snap, crackle, pop of shrink-wrapping), if everybody downloads music they will be out of business forthwith. Ergo – embrace the technology.

  • i have read recent interviews with the head of Newbury Comics (a boston-area chain)…he thinks that music will not be sold in stores within something like five years.

  • You are absolutely right BB. Embrace the technology.

    What are you going to do as a potential consumer though? Are you going to continue to download even though you know it’s wrong? Are you going to justify your downloading because of the lack of available options?

  • BB

    Craig, as far as I am concerned that’s a non issue and an assumption on your part. Neither does it justify the RIAA’s thuggery. It is time the industry put its resources into embracing the technology rather than beating up 12 year olds and lining the pockets of $500/hr corporate lawyers.

  • You’re right it is an assumption.

    I am not trying to attack you or get all crazy, but while nothing justifies the RIAA’s actions, can downloaders justify their actions?

    There is a moral issue going on here even in a vacuum where the RIAA doesn’t exist.

    For example I partake in a moral justification for my own habits. I download for the sake of preview, and then I am very religious about deleting what I don’t want and buying what I do either in a used record store or online or whatever. I am still breaking the rules knowingly, but I am comfortable with the moral aspects of what I am doing because I am supporting artists who give me enjoyment.

    I am just wondering if you are a downloader, if you have found a moral justification for what you do, or if you know anyone who is a downloader if you know their moral justifications.

  • what i wonder about are the pure numbers.

    they want to hit people for $150,000 per song.

    do they actually believe their own numbers?

    is this what allows them to justify the untold millions they’re spending on this campaign?

    and what about mary-lu?

  • BB

    Mark, that is the point. The real issue is not about right or wrong or even legalities. It is all about intimidation which in legal terms is called an ‘abuse of process’ and that is what makes this so disgusting.

    Craig, don’t worry I’m not offended. As far as the RIAA is concerned it is a ‘supposedly’ legal issue. But if you want to get moral about it I suppose all of us being human can try to justify downloading. Some people look for old music that is beyond copyright protection and not available in the stores. Some people justify it because they have paid for the same old song over and over every time a newer technology came out – such as direct-to-disk vinyl recordings, then tapes, CD’s, and now mp3’s. You see the industry is a hypocrite because it has made tons of money thanks to technological advances. But instead of embracing it, it is now using it in a negative manner to hunt us down. Just look at all the negative publicity it has received! It is (for lack of a better word) a stupid idea and the industry is getting its just deserts.

  • Just so we are all being fair and everyone understands where I am coming from, there was an epiphany on my part when I was like, “ok, I need to change my behavior because this is just wrong.”

    I was on a plane for a business trip and I was sitting next to this girl from Texas A&M I think. She was totally cute, which is relatively beside the point except this is why I was talking to her. Anyway we got to talking about music and we had a lot of the same favorite bands.

    Then she brought out her cd booklet which she had brought along with her portable cd player. As she flipped through the booklet (it was one of those with 4 cd’s per page) she had probably 100-150 cd’s all of which were burned. Not a single purchased CD in the collection. I remember losing my concentration as I thought to myself, that amount of cd’s cost me on average $11 a piece including used discs and things. She has subverted paying a grand total of $1100 worth of traditional cd’s.

    Now, I realize that in the new way with digital technology we should be rounding that down even further from $1100 because it shouldn’t cost $11.00 per album if you are willing to download it in MP3 format. At the same time, it is quite a bit of subversion of traditional expenses. My thoughts were that if this is going on with a lot of people (and you and I both know it is) even if you are in support of some sort of fair use or preview ideas, this kind of rampant disregard is wrong.

    At least that was the conclusion I came to. I don’t expect everyone to feel the same exact way that I do, but I just want to make people aware that there should be some sort of a moral conflict in their own mind regardless of the despicable actions of the RIAA.

  • BB

    Point well taken Craig.

  • Mike