On June 26, 2003, the RIAA began one of the most controversial moves of its career. Faced with the mounting growth of file-sharing and P2P networking, the RIAA began what no industry on this scale has ever done before – it began suing its own customers in the thousands.
The success of those lawsuits has been a hotly contested item. The RIAA claims that it has succeeded in informing the public about copyright violation, while at the same time slicing the FastTrack network in half. Although both these claims have merit, others point to the fact that while FastTrack has declined, other more advanced networks have taken up the slack.
While its fun to watch network statistics go up and down, read the latest eDonkey2000 change log or tinker with the latest version of BitComet, there is a very human side to the online file-sharing war that is largely overlooked. To this day, over 4,680 individuals have been targeted by the RIAA; a number slightly larger than the entire FileTopia network. These are not mystical figures or some imaginary force the RIAA has made up. They are our neighbors, friends, relatives and ordinary people like you and I.
One of these people is Charli Johnson, a young college student at Kansas University. Like many others, Charli was attracted to the allure of being able to listen to her favorite artists from an online source. Also, like many other defendants in the RIAA’s crusade, her network of choice was FastTrack. Unfortunately, the FastTrack network has proven to be the target of choice for the RIAA.
Charli quickly summed up her chain of events for us:
“I used Kazaa, which I downloaded from Kazaa.com. They caught my IP address on January 9th, and I received the lawsuit notification on July 2nd. We settled on August 15th.”
Charli was using her home computer in the state of Kansas. Her ISP, Sunflower broadband, was forced to divulge her personal information under the DMCA. Like many others, she was unaware of the RIAA’s tactics.
“I sometimes left it (Kazaa) running for days minimized. I would say I’ve been using Kazaa since the beginning of my freshman year.”
Unfortunately leaving the Kazaa application running for an extended period would prove to be a costly error. Surprisingly, Charli told us that she was sharing only 592 songs, well short of the “substantial amount” the RIAA claims to be targeting. In addition, Charli was sharing a variety of music, including “Nelly”, Jewl”, “Sublime” and some country acts.
In the notification the RIAA sent Charli, it cited every single song she was sharing – all 592. “It was about 20 pages,” she said.
Leaving an application such as Kazaa running for extended periods, especially sharing top 40 music, would spell danger to many seasoned file-traders. However, this knowledge has proven to be less than common.
“I had heard about it (the lawsuits) a few times, but it wasn’t well known. I never thought it would happen to me. I didn’t take it seriously; I thought they were saying it to scare people.”
Her optimistic appraisal of the situation would quickly change, and so would her future buying habits from those represented by the RIAA,
“Well, I don’t plan to buy music from them anymore. I think that there are other ways to get their point across, especially since people don’t think it will happen to them. All my fiends know I got sued but I would bet they are still downloading music. [The lawsuits] only affects those getting sued, and for those who aren’t getting sued it doesn’t matter. My roommate is probably downloading right now. Their way probably isn’t going to work.”
Like virtually all of the RIAA’s targets in its crusade against its own customers, Charli was faced with a daunting decision; settle for $3,000 or fight it and potentially owe up to a million dollars.
“The odds were overwhelming against me. My dad is a lawyer, and he said we are settling. It’s the first thing he said. The only way I would get out of this is on a technicality. However, the likelihood of them making an error would be unlikely. Plus, to me there was never any question I was downloading music. How could I fight that?”
While speaking with Charli, she was surprised to learn that the RIAA is dumping most of their efforts into the FastTrack network. If you are still using FastTrack to obtain music, we cannot stress enough the dangers in doing so. Older versions of Kazaa leave your shared directory wide open to public viewing, so anyone, especially the RIAA, will know what you are sharing. There are many other safer
networks out there that are less likely to be targeted by the RIAA.
In the end, actually speaking to someone who was sued was angering experience. While the RIAA seems indifferent to the struggles of those who are being sued, reality dictates an enormous anger brewing against them. Have the RIAA lawsuits been successful? Perhaps. The chain reaction of distaste towards the music industry seems to be growing every day, almost to the point where it has become common discussion. If this trend continues, then I wish the RIAA every success in the world.