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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

My Stance on the RIAA/MPAA

Well, I started out writing a reply to a post on Slashdot. But by the time I finished (some hour later), I'd written something as long as one of my typical lengthy blog posts. So I figured I might as well post it on my blog :P

First, the original post I was replying to (from this thread):
So its pretty clear that going after individual copyright violaters is looked down upon on slashdot. I also remember back when napster was big everyone on here was upset that they were getting sued because they werent actually breaking the law, it was just the individual users.

So is it just one group who thinks that indivuals shouldnt be sued and a different group who thinks that the companies should be immune? How should the RIAA protect its intellectual property rights? Is it just a fundamental belief on here that copyright holders should have no recourse against violaters?
And my reply:
I'm not sure they can defend themselves, frankly. I guess I differ from most of the most vocal Slashdot people in that I believe P2P file sharing (specifically a subset of that - theft) is hurting the music and movie industries, and I believe that stealing content via P2P is morally wrong. That said, I oppose their suits on a number of grounds (possibly more than I can recall off the top of my head); to name a few:

- Even in the worst case scenario - that the downloader and everyone they uploaded to are truly stealing the content (morally wrong), the suits they are bringing are orders of magnitude greater than the theft committed. $3k-$5k out-of-court settlements are nearly universal; tet most people will not upload much more than the amount they downloaded, and even in extreme cases not more than several times what they downloaded. So, if they downloaded a music CD worth $15, they have (assuming all parties are stealing) stolen (or willingly facilitated stealing) 2x-5x that (5x is a bit arbitrary), or $30-$75. Even at the high end of theft ($75) and low end of damages ($3k), that is *40 times* the value of that which was stolen; the other way around ($30 and $5k), it's almost 200 times the value. Can you honestly tell me that you support that? No, really, I want you to type in your answer and click "submit".

- The RIAA has been using downright illegal tactics to bring these cases (see Beckerman's site for details about this). And I'm not throwing the term "illegal" around lightly, like many Slashdotters. I mean they are literally defying direct orders made *by the courts* in order to bring law suits that they would not have been able to bring using purely legal methods.

- The RIAA has been using legal but immoral tactics to bring these cases. Most commonly, the RIAA picks people who they believe do not have the resources to defend against the suit, making the outcome the same, regardless of whether they are guilty or innocent (and short-circuiting the justice system entirely): they have to settle, because they can't afford a lawyer to defend themselves (and if they do hire a lawyer, the RIAA lets them accumulate a sizable bill, then drops the case, so the people will usually have to pay more than the settlement would have been). This is done to build fear by maintaining a perfect prosecution record, to discourage others from sharing files or hiring a lawyer to defend themselves. I know of not a single case the RIAA has won - that is, the case has gone to verdict and the verdict was in their favor; if you know of a single case, click "reply" and link to it, right now. And because they drop cases once it becomes obvious they cannot win them, they have just the same never suffered a loss (though that tide appears to be slowly turning). They care so much about their perfect record that they will continue suits against people who they either knew from the beginning or learned during the trial are innocent, because dropping the case would show that they don't have absolute power, and diminish the fear they seek to create. Do you support each and every one of these methods? Again, that is not a rhetorical question; I am expecting a real answer.

- The RIAA needs to preserve their undefeated status because they cannot possibly catch all of (or even enough to save their business) the true P2P thieves out there, let alone distinguish the thieves from the ones who have not immoral uses (such as seeing if they want to buy and album/movie legally). This is a painful exercise in futility. Their only (false) hope is to try to generate enough fear to make everyone they don't have resources to sue stop sharing. This is *not* working, and cannot in theory work. While it's true that they may be able to reduce (not stop) theft via P2P in the US by going after web sites and individual P2P users, where they have the power of law suits, such suits cannot be brought in a majority of the world because they do not have jurisdiction (let alone the resources to sue that many people), meaning that even fear is outside their reach.

- DRM is also a painful exercise in futility, and cannot stop people from making or sharing copies of media for any purpose, including true theft. Furthermore, it provides no inhibition for hackers who seek to make the content available (again, for any reason), but greatly inconveniences the casual user who isn't technically inclined, and wouldn't share the content anyway. Nevertheless, such a technically illiterate user will have no trouble downloading media ripped by an aforementioned professional hacker, meaning all that inconvenience is for no benefit whatsoever.

- Even in the most draconian of outcomes - that the RIAA gets the government itself on their side and using government resources to hunt down copyright infringers, that only goes as far as the US, and we've already been over that.

Thus, in conclusion, the RIAA/MPAA are on a sinking ship, and even if they were on the moral side (that is, they didn't have any of the moral or legal problems I've outlined), I don't believe they could stop it. People throw around this "time to find a new business model" all the time on Slashdot, usually because they believe there's something wrong with the old one. I don't know if I'd agree that the old one is wrong (or that it should be abolished), but I think what I think and what the RIAA/MPAA think is irrelevant: the end is coming - you adapt (and perhaps get "right-sized") or you die.

Lastly, I should add that I'm not categorically opposed to what the RIAA/MPAA try to accomplish. I think it's great news when they and/or the government busts large-scale counterfeiting rings, and I'm certainly not one of those "Who cares, music should be free" hippies (that's an actual quote from Slashdot, by the way). And for what it's worth, I'm a big fan of watermarking content. Ideally, they should be going after the people who make the content (widely) available - counterfeiters and the ones who initially rip the content (as they make it available for many, many people, potentially creating huge damages proportionate the their own numbers; as well, it's much less morally defensible to rip copyrighted content, as you know you will personally fuel a huge amount of theft, in the case of sharers without so much as some benefit to yourself), not the ones who download the content, which, as stated earlier, may not be immoral, depending on the context.

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