Monday, April 5, 2010


Mixtape Sessions. Music for the People.
At least the RIAA eventually walked away. Jammie Thomas, Joel Tenenbaum, and a few others aside, the crusade against John Doe file-swappers has been retired, for now-obvious reasons.

Just another chapter in a totally backward strategy? Actually, major labels have plenty of creative and enterprising executives. But only a small elite (whose names may be obvious) are tugging the RIAA puppet strings. They were the ones who kept the bloody crusade going.

But the whole charade just got too expensive, too ridiculous, too obviously ineffective. Remember, the first lawsuits started in late-2003, a period that seems positively booming compared to the present. John Doe lawsuits were costly, both in terms of billable hours (despite break-even claims) and longer-term consumer alienation. On the latter, the recording industry may never recover from the damage.

Then, why are similarly-situated groups in 2010 so eager to repeat history? Why the need to pound consumers back into the 90s, risk similar public relations disasters, questionable ISP battles, and long-term customer relations problems?

Talk to a three-strikes advocate in Europe, and one argument is that the RIAA simply employed the wrong approach. Instead of choking off the chaos at the source, the RIAA was trying to slash the tentacles. The whole exercise, according to the argument, was un-scalable and fraught with complications, and ISPs were never held liable (though in reality, unsuccessful attempts were made to get to this result).

But what happens when a 'disconnection' hits a totally innocent subscriber, or better yet, a single mother, elderly widow, or other made-for-media category? Or, even a guilty swapper, cut off from Skype, IM, or another communication channel during an emergency? Aren't these disasters just waiting to happen, with long-term results similar - or worse - than those experienced by the RIAA? And how many years until the BPI, IFPI, or any number of other groups make the same surrender the RIAA did?

But wait. In some corners, even the tired, direct-to-consumer lawsuit is still alive-and-well. Turns out the BPI is just one group, and just one piece of the offensive. Heard of ACS:Law? These legal guns have been suing individual file-swappers on behalf of their rights-holder clients, the broader industry strategy-be-damned.

Stateside, something similar is occurring. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been diplomatically brokering with ISPs, for a variety of reasons. But those are the majors - last week, a group of independent producers started wielding a heavy enforcement hammer against BitTorrent traders. This is straight out of the manual that the RIAA wrote in 2003, chapter one, but a freshly-chaotic chapter for Hollywood.

In both cases, consumers are unlikely to make the finer-tuned distinctions. Who's suing? Who's disconnecting? And who's forging alliances? Forget about it. The far easier question is, 'where's the best place to get music, movies, games, or other media for free these days, without getting caught or slowing my computer'?

It happened to the RIAA, and it will happen to other organizations and industries determined to enforce their way towards media monetization.

Those who ignore history...

- Paul Resnikoff, Publisher.