It’s official – the RIAA is giving up on its strategy of suing thousands of individuals for file-sharing. The campaign, which began in 2003, has hit 35,000 people. At no point have the record labels ever won a contested court case, instead they’ve gained masses of default judgements against defendants who never turned up.
It’s failed to stop file-sharing, too. Album sales have gone nowhere but down, even when taking into account digital sales increases. Not to mention the PR disaster it’s caused for the labels – who’ve sued pensioners, 13-year-old girls, and penniless single mothers.
But don’t think that this is a green light for you to head over to the Pirate Bay right now. Well, not without protection, anyway. The RIAA plans to work with ISPs to identify customers making music available for free. Those customers can expect to receive strongly-worded letters asking them to stop.
If customers don’t stop, then they can expect a limitation of their service, and possibly even being completely cut off. The RIAA says it has agreements in place with a number of ISPs, but won’t say who.
So what’s changing, then? Well, crucially, the labels will no longer demand to know the identity of file-sharers, and the burden of punishment will be shifted to the ISP. That’ll help solve some of the massive privacy issues with the lawsuit strategy. The record labels are instead trusting the ISPs to take action against the heaviest sharers.
The ISPs get something out of it, too. As well as freedom from the headache of the labels’ constant demands for IP address info, many of the biggest file-sharers use vast amounts of bandwidth. That slows down the network for everyone else, so it’s potentially in the interests of ISPs to remove these heavy users, to free up availability for new customers.
Although this is a step in the right direction, you’ve still got to question whether it’s still right to be propping up a business model which no longer works. There are many ways to make money from music. Selling plastic discs is no longer one of them.