RIAA abandons lawsuits against music sharers; plans to work with ISPs instead

“After years of suing thousands of people for allegedly stealing music via the Internet, the recording industry is set to drop its legal assault as it searches for more effective ways to combat online music piracy,” Sarah McBride and Ethan Smith report for The Wall Street Journal.

“The decision represents an abrupt shift of strategy for the industry, which has opened legal proceedings against about 35,000 people since 2003. Critics say the legal offensive ultimately did little to stem the tide of illegally downloaded music. And it created a public-relations disaster for the industry, whose lawsuits targeted, among others, several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl,” McBride and Smith report.

“Instead, the Recording Industry Association of America said it plans to try an approach that relies on the cooperation of Internet-service providers. The trade group said it has hashed out preliminary agreements with major ISPs under which it will send an email to the provider when it finds a provider’s customers making music available online for others to take,” McBride and Smith report.

“Depending on the agreement, the ISP will either forward the note to customers, or alert customers that they appear to be uploading music illegally, and ask them to stop. If the customers continue the file-sharing, they will get one or two more emails, perhaps accompanied by slower service from the provider. Finally, the ISP may cut off their access altogether,” McBride and Smith report.

More in the full article here.


  1. P2P sharing (theft) will find a way around this also. The best answer is to provide a simple and well priced alternative (cough “iTunes” cough). With high quality (256K plus) files without DRM for $1 seems to be the right mix.

  2. Ahh, so an industry with a failed business model is asking other companies (in this case, the ISPs) to be judge, jury and executioner on their behalf. Nice.

    Come to think of it, I don’t think my ISP even *has* my email address. (I don’t use whatever email service they provide.)

    Let’s hope this isn’t a precursor to a France-style “three strikes” rule for internet access. Particularly as there are more and more online public services which require an internet connection to utilize.

  3. Right now, music can be downloaded online, either from iTunes (with mildly irritating DRM and 128kbps AAC), or Amazon (without DRM, but alas, in MP3, at 256kpbs), in addition to a number of other inconsequential online download stores. For those who were acquiring their music from p2p, these solutions offer better and more consistent audio quality, together with the original cover art image.

    Anyone who claims they will still user p2p because they don’t have an adequate legal alternative has lost their argument long time ago.

    Even if you are an iPod/iTunes user, you can still get your music from Amazon (if for some strange reason FairPlay DRM feels so constricting for you, or if you actually believe those MP3s in 256kbps actually sound better than AACs i 128kbps). And even on the Mac, the process of getting the music from Amazon and putting it into iTunes and on an iPod/iPhone is still less time-consuming and more convenient (and consistent) than any P2P system so far.

    Lawsuits were clearly not the right way, and they backfired. However, a few gentle nudges by your ISP (“You seem to be sharing music illegaly. Please stop”) would give plenty of oportunity to clear tings up for those who aren’t at fault (for example, wide-open WiFi home router with several leachers running LimeWire and Transmission 24/7). Rather than fighting it in court (and feeding greedy lawyers), you’d be working it out (without the greedy lawyers) with the ISP. If they do it right and give you plenty of time to clear things up, this could be efficient in slowing the blatant music sharers (who have thousands of files always on LimeWire) without creating a major inconvenience to those who are genuinely innocent (or ignorant).

    While RIAA is the ultimate evil (or the mob), it just doesn’t justify illegal sharing (remember, there is such a thing as legal sharing, when you lend a CD to your friend). The biggest losers from this, ironically enough, aren’t the labels; it is all the musicians whose music is illegally shared. When music sales drop, labels pass much of those revenue losses on to their artists and try and protect their share of the pie as much as possible.

  4. Maybe the days of the labels are over then? (Or should be?)

    Even if every music label went under and the music industry as we know it collapsed, there would still be plenty of humans making music. They’d do it for the love of it if not for the money, because humans have to make music. We’ve been doing it as long as we’ve been humans. It’s just part of our DNA. There doesn’t need to be a financial incentive. In fact, I’d argue that removing the financial incentive would lead to better music.

  5. In other words, you won’t see Middlebronfman reduce his salary by 25%, just because Warner’s revenue for last year dropped by that much. However, the revenue drop WILL be fealt by somebody, and it ain’t going to be senior management.

    In the end, this new process will only be successful if the ISPs approach it in the right way and provide proper communication, information and help to the innocent (or ignorant) users. Taking the position that every violator is in fact ignorant, with an open WiFi network and a neighbour, they could at first suggest the user lock down their network. A user who is genuinely innocent and receives this message would probably feel quite upset that 1.) someone is freeloading off of his broadband connection, and 2.) they may get their connection disconnected because of this freeloading someone. Such a user would try to lock down their network.

    Now, if the user receiving such a message is indeed sharing files illegally, they would know they’d need to stop doing that and it would be simple and straightforward.

    As for the ISP e-mail account, it’s not really relevant whether you use it or not. You do get a monthly bill from your ISP somehow; if they need to contact you reliably, they have plenty of easy ways.

  6. And whoever wrote the message signed as @Predrag:

    You are absolutely right. We’ve been beating the dead hollow tree trunks and blowing into dried up bones and bamboo sticks since thousands (millions?) of years ago, so music isn’t going anywhere. However, the financial aspect of it has provided additional motivation for those who have gift for it to work on developing it. No music is a result of sheer talent. Vast majority of creative (and consequently, successful) musicians produce quality output because of the skills and musicianship they had perfected over the years of hard work. If you were to remove one significant source of motivation (financial success), we would lose significant volume of creative talent with exquisite skills. Sales of recorded music have, over the past century, become a significant portion of income of a working musician. It would be very difficult to return to the business model of pre- 20 century world, where the only income musicians could hope for would be live performance and publication of their works in print (i.e. printed music).

    However, the purpose of labels in today’s world is becoming less and less clear. If anyone with GarageBand can put up their own music for sale in iTunes with practically zero investment, there is very little of value that labels can offer for the gobs of money they will take from a musician in return.

  7. @Gabriel,

    “But more than likely the ISPs are just paying lip service to the RIAA. They don’t want to cancel their subscriber’s accounts.”

    Actually ISPs can’t stand file sharing because it clogs up bandwidth.

    Perhaps we should just pay a fee to our ISP which is then remitted to the copyright holders’ association. If you don’t do P2P then you don’t pay the fee. If you still use P2P and haven’t paid the fee then it’s your problem. It’s a version of the “opt in” model.

  8. SayNoToDRM:

    I can’t possibly find a reason to buy your suggestion. An arbitrary fee? Why don’t we instead buy our music through the normal retail channels (of which there are quite a few), instead of running P2P in order to get it (illegally, for free) in the first place? I don’t want to pay some arbitrary fee which would end up being distributed among some artists I couldn’t care less about. I pay $1, download a song, the money goes to the artist (with part of it going to some middle men, depending on how the song was published). Can’t think of a model more fair than that.

  9. SayNoToDRM: Actually ISPs can’t stand file sharing because it clogs up bandwidth.

    Actually they love P2P, because it is the main driver for broadband subscriptions with their relatively healthy revenues…! But of course they could never admit that! ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

  10. Predrag: I appreciate your attempt to make sense, but the fight against the P2P-sharers sense of entitlement is a lost cause. There are just too many people out there who seem to think it’s their holy right to grab as much illegal free entertainment as possible.

    And that’s what needs to be remembered. It’s just entertainment. IT’S NOT IMPORTANT. It’s not the cure for cancer, or the secret plan to revitalize the global economy. It’s just music. You can live without it.


  11. I personally don’t believe it’s even possible to listen to music illegally, I don’t care what the RIAA or their lawyers say. I don’t believe I need to pay for each and every song I hear. That’s just crazy. I’ll pay for the ones I really, really like. The rest I just want to hear a few times and be done with. I’m not paying for that crap.

    I bet you guys who are all, “nooo downloading via P2P is evil!” refuse to let your wives and children watch a DVD you rented, because if they’re watching it, they should have had to pay for it too.

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