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.