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RIAA Drops Lawsuit Campaign – Mostly
December 19, 2008
Thomas Mennecke
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Since the RIAA began pursuing file-sharers in mid-2003, several remarkable transformations have occurred in the P2P world. Over the course of the last five years, an untold number of individuals have received monetary demands from the RIAA. Like P2P statistics, the number of individuals was easy to keep track of at one point, but eventually the entire process became so enormous that we can only estimate. At last reliable count, at least 21,000 individuals have received monetary demands. It’s quite possible that as of today, over 30,000 have received such demands.

The RIAA lawsuit machine, as reported by the Washington Post this morning, appears to be dead. But let’s review some of the highlights of this highly criticized approach to thwart P2P piracy.

When the RIAA lawsuit campaign started back in the day, the largest P2P network at the time was FastTrack. FastTrack was the network that the P2P clients Kazaa, Kazaa Lite and Grokster connected to. Although this network was considered a spyware infested community, it still served its purpose to a significant number of people. When the RIAA announced their intentions, FastTrack was just about reaching its peak of 4.5-5.0 million users. Once the campaign started like Operation Rolling Thunder, the population shrank dramatically. Within a few short months, FastTrack contracted from its peak number to less than 4 million. A year later, it had fewer than 3 million users. Today, FastTrack is hardly a blip on the file-sharing radar. There continues to be debate whether the RIAA’s lawsuits or incessant corruption brought down FastTrack- but the correlation is difficult to ignore.

With FastTrack destroyed it was easy enough for everyone to pat themselves and claim that piracy was contained and the mission was accomplished. But the saga related the RIAA’s lawsuit campaign was far from over. Now that FastTrack was out of the picture, a P2P power vacuum developed, and BitTorrent’s time had come.

Thanks to the RIAA’s lawsuit campaign, BitTorrent’s popularity soared. Led by large indexing and tracking sites like EliteTorrents, LokiTorrent, YouceffTorrents and a relative new comer, The Pirate Bay, file-sharers found a new and safer place to share files.

The RIAA’s lawsuit campaign didn’t stop with the end user. P2P developers also became a target. Emboldened by the MGM vs. Grokster decision in June of 2005, the RIAA sent cease and desist letters to the major development firms – it’s believed that WinMX, LImeWire, BearShare, and Ares Galaxy were all recipients. The Supreme Court had remanded the MGM vs. Grokster decision to the lower courts, and decided that Grokster COULD be sued for copyright infringement. Grokster never fought the good fight to the end, however, and settled for 30 million big ones. Because of the legal pressure, WinMX and BearShare folded like cheap suitcases. Only LimeWire and Ares Galaxy hung on. And currently, LimeWire appears to be fighting things out to the bitter end. It should be noted that no judge in the United States has ruled and P2P software illegal.

2005 might have been a good year on the legal front, but in the long term, the continuous barrage of lawsuits seemed to do little. As BitTorrent began to pick up steam, it became apparent that the file-sharing population simply jumped to a different protocol rather than stop sharing. Before long, The Pirate Bay had become one of the largest P2P networks. In May of 2006, the entertainment industry successfully helped bring down this powerful network, but only for a few days. The clamors of victory were soon silenced, as The Pirate Bay would once again rule the file-sharing seas. Now a distributed network dispersed internationally, any hope of containing the file-sharing threat began to dim.

Lawsuits against individuals and lawsuits against developers have proven to be ineffectual. The entertainment industry has claimed that if there weren’t any lawsuits, that P2P activity would be worse than it is today. Is this true? Probably not. P2P development is continuing at a furious pace, bandwidth consumption remains a hot button issue for ISPs, and the population of the file-sharing community is larger now than it ever was. Worse yet, the latest data from the NPD group reports that CD sales are plummeting.

“The proportion of U.S. Internet users, age 13 and older, purchasing a CD in the prior month fell from 25 percent in Q3 2007 to 22 percent this year. NPD estimates that the volume of CDs purchased declined by 19 percent in Q3 compared to last year. The most dramatic declines in CD sales volume were among teens (down 34 percent) and among adults age 26 to 35 (down 36 percent). CD purchases by adults age 36 and older showed a more moderate decline of 10 percent.”

The last resort for the music industry is the ISP. ISPs in the United States are protected by the safe harbor provision of the once hated, now suddenly not so terrible DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). The safe harbor provision absolves an ISP from any responsibility regarding the information that traverses it network. Yet in a last ditch effort to stymie the flood of file-sharing, the RIAA has come to agreement with several large ISPs to implement a “three strikes” policy, similar to the one being developed in France and the UK. File-sharing and Newsgroup advocate Andrew Cuomo, NY State Attorney General, is acting as the middle man in the arrangement. Although the details of the arrangement haven’t been released, speculation suggests that as the RIAA’s agents find those sharing copious files, their IP addresses will be forwarded to their ISP. From there, the end user will receive a warning, and if that doesn’t work, they will receive 2 more warnings. Ostensibly, if they don’t stop their sharing ways by the 3rd warning, they will be disconnected. Yeah right.

In a file-sharing age when there are over20 million users on The Pirate Bay alone, how successful can this new, kinder, friendlier approach be? We here at Slyck believe it will be a colossal failure, second only to the lawsuit campaign’s lack of success. There are simply too many file-sharers simultaneously connected to the P2P community at any given time. While ISPs may celebrate the idea of booting heavy-use customers, we’ll see how much celebration occurs when attrition begins to take its toll, and other ISPs who’d rather not play along reap the rewards.

As for those already facing litigation, today’s news brings no relief – they will still have to answer to the entertainment industry. And the RIAA still reserves the right to pursue copious file-sharers - or uploaders. But today does usher in a new era of file-sharing. Whenever a new challenge faces P2P developers, new and innovative technology is there to respond. Things should get very exciting if this new campaign ever takes hold.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Entertainment Industry :: RIAA

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