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Licenses Not Lawsuits

As reported in Digital Music News, in our Book, in this Blog and in many, many other places – one has to really question whether the RIAA should continue it’s litigation strategy against P2P file-sharing? According to a recent report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the answer is decidedly no. The EFF, which has long been at loggerheads with the RIAA both inside the courtroom and out, recently released a highly critical report. In the review, called "RIAA v. The People: Two Years Later," the EFF argues that overall file-sharing volumes continue to increase, despite ongoing lawsuits. "Studies show that P2P usage is increasing instead of decreasing," commented EFF senior staff attorney Fred von Lohmann.

Part of the problem is a simple numbers game. Out of millions of file-sharers in the United States, the RIAA is only targeting a group of several hundred monthly. But the EFF injected a human factor into the equation, pointing to the financial hardships that targeted swappers often endure. Citing a "a single mother in Minnesota who faces $500,000 in penalties for her daughter’s alleged downloading" and a "disabled veteran who was targeted for downloading songs she already owned," the EFF paints a picture of a legal campaign that may be overly aggressive. That has had a negative publicity effect on the RIAA, despite the arbitrary nature of the suits.

So what should major labels be doing? According to the EFF, a strong alternative is a voluntary collective licensing scheme. Such a plan could involve monthly payments to an ISP "or software provider or other intermediary". A large pool of cash would then be divided among rights holders. While that represents a major paradigm shift, and a complicated transition, the EFF sees a big opportunity. "The more people share, the more money goes to rights-holders. The more competition in P2P software, the more rapid the innovation and improvement. The more freedom to fans to publish what they care about, the deeper the catalog." But even though that concept has been on the table for years, labels have been mostly resistant. Whether that will change in the coming years may depend on just how physical CD sales do, and whether a meaningful story emerges in the paid download, subscription, and mobile music markets.

From Digital Music News

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