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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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February 6, 2005

RIAA Sues Dead People

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Not at all surprising. In fact, it could even be amusing, since in this case no one but the RIAA has to pay for its mistake:


Lawyers representing several record companies have filed suit against an 83 year-old woman who died in December, claiming that she made more than 700 songs available on the internet.

"I believe that if music companies are going to set examples they need to do it to appropriate people and not dead people," Robin Chianumba told AP. "I am pretty sure she is not going to leave Greenwood Memorial Park to attend the hearing."

Needless to say, this is not the way it usually goes. Most RIAA targets are alive and well, and must deal with the consequences of being sued by a group that has fought in court to make the process quick and painless -- for the RIAA.

Due process is, after all, sort of inconvenient. Why not round up all of the people you want to sue in one big, easy-to-bulldoze group? So what if their cases have nothing to do with one another, or the ISP you want information from is a couple states away from a target's jurisdiction? And what's all this nonsense with having to present a court with actual evidence of wrongdoing before you can strip an Internet user of her anonymity? Whatever happened to guilty until proven innocent?

In fact, the RIAA doesn't usually meet much resistance to its round-'em-up-and-shoot lawsuits. As this Daily Texan article reports, it can usually skip right to the good part: collecting the settlement fee:


It was an ingenious plan: Lawyers would pay around $200 in court fees to subpoena an ISP into revealing the owners of a list of IP addresses the RIAA had accumulated. Before November, the RIAA was able to gather around 50 identities per subpoena. Assuming each person received a letter with a phone number to a similar settlement center, and each person decided to pay a little now instead of a lot later by settling, and each person settled for the then-average $3,000, then for $200 the RIAA could make an easy $150,000.

I can count on at least a few Copyfight readers to respond with, "So what? Isn't copyright infringement illegal? Someone has to pay for the damage infringement is doing to the record labels -- why not the people accused of the crime?"

Jim Griffin has been talking this over with the folks on the Pho list, and his response is both sensible and well-articulated:


We license all manner of uncontrolled use of music, but not this. ...Why not admit [it's] impractical and inefficient to control these songs one by one? Why not acknowledge the $20,000 iPod is not a business model?

Licensed or unlicensed is the question, and if not, why not?

Sound recording companies are paid nothing by radio broadcasters. They've built multi-billion-dollar businesses without paying those whose sound recordings they use. Are they they pursued by record companies? Of course not. Legal, no license necessary. Is anyone beating the hallways of Congress seeking to make them pay? Is anyone litigating this case through the courts? Of course not. Why pick on the powerful and wealthy?

There was a time the stink was about copying discs, but that was before Sony and Universal took Roxio ownership and leadership. After that, it was all about peered sharing, even though disc copying delivered the recipient of the process a perfect copy of that available for sale.

Better to chase teen-agers, better to sue old women, better to berate the individual user, all of whom are paying far more today for media through multiple flat-fee, all-you-can-eat buffets than they ever paid before.

Only the sound recording companies cling to their pursuit of this notion of control and calling those who do not comply thieves, and in doing so they leave billions on the table that should be divided fairly amongst creators and rights holders.


There's no question that P2P-enabled copyright infringement is a problem. But the lawsuits have not, and will not, solve it. It's time for a better way forward.

[Note: this post was expanded from a shorter, now-deleted post published on Feb. 5th.]

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Abuse


COMMENTS

1. Rafael Venegas on February 7, 2005 11:06 AM writes...

As to th comment "There's no question that P2P-enabled copyright infringement is a problem...".

This can be viewed from the other side too, that
P2P is not a problem but a solution, partial at least, to social and environmental problems.

The point: P2P reduces use of labor and materials in the production and distribution processes and reduces the associated envirenmental damages and the cost of living. Then the saved money and labor can be transferred to other pressing needs of society.

Permalink to Comment

2. Alfredo Octavio on February 8, 2005 11:26 AM writes...

And what exactly is meant by "the $20,000 iPod is not a business model"? There is no $20.000 iPod, is there? I don't get it...

Permalink to Comment

3. J.R. on February 8, 2005 12:53 PM writes...

Dude:

At $1 per song, if the iPOD will hold 20K songs, isn't that a $20,299.99 iPOD? If the iPOD costs $299.99, anyways?

What's to understand?

Me

Permalink to Comment

4. Neo on February 8, 2005 5:11 PM writes...

It shows 3 comments, but I only can find 2 of them. (Now I've posted another, it's now 4 and 3 I suppose.)

Permalink to Comment

5. Brad Hutchings on February 8, 2005 9:56 PM writes...

Of course, nobody rips their 15 year old CD collection to put on their iPods and iPod photo users don't put photos on it. That's why we have the $20K iPod strawman.

Permalink to Comment

6. Rafael Venegas on February 9, 2005 12:06 PM writes...

If dead people can be sued why not...

How about suing the users of copyrighted objects.

For example, if the design of a coffee mug is copyrighted by the mug manufacturer (mugger), and the mug is used by a restaurant (owned by a wealthy person who is not dead, of course)whereby the restaurant owners are authorizing their customer to use the mug, then there may be copyright infringement. That can be exploited rather profitably. It may even be higher income stream for the mugger than the sale of cofee mugs. Even the customers of the restaurant are liable for infringement.

When the suits are filed by the muggers and the mugger lawyers, the sued parties would rather settle for $1,000 than to pay many thousands as an up front fee to a copyright lawywer.

After all, aren't restaurants sued by the copyright industry for playing the radio without their license for songs as if restaurants could know what songs are included in the license and knew or controlled what songs will be played on the radio. By comparison, suing them for using copyrighted mugs is more logical than for allowing others to hear copyrighted songs because using a mug with a vu=isible copyright notice is a more objectable action than listening to a song on the radio which may or may not be in the public domain.

After all, if now it turns out, libraries cannot lend book without paying royalties, at least in some places, why shuld the muggers be deprived of their royalties due them when their copyrighted mugs are used.

Then why not sue dead people?

BTW, suind dead people is harlmess, since the dead need not worry, so let us not be too critical of RIIA for suing the dead.

I wonder no one thought of this before. I think I will patent the idea under the business method category.

Permalink to Comment

7. Rafael Venegas on February 9, 2005 12:08 PM writes...

If dead people can be sued why not...

How about suing the users of copyrighted objects.

For example, if the design of a coffee mug is copyrighted by the mug manufacturer (mugger), and the mug is used by a restaurant (owned by a wealthy person who is not dead, of course)whereby the restaurant owners are authorizing their customer to use the mug, then there may be copyright infringement. That can be exploited rather profitably. It may even be higher income stream for the mugger than the sale of cofee mugs. Even the customers of the restaurant are liable for infringement.

When the suits are filed by the muggers and the mugger lawyers, the sued parties would rather settle for $1,000 than to pay many thousands as an up front fee to a copyright lawywer.

After all, aren't restaurants sued by the copyright industry for playing the radio without their license for songs as if restaurants could know what songs are included in the license and knew or controlled what songs will be played on the radio. By comparison, suing them for using copyrighted mugs is more logical than for allowing others to hear copyrighted songs because using a mug with a vu=isible copyright notice is a more objectable action than listening to a song on the radio which may or may not be in the public domain.

After all, if now it turns out, libraries cannot lend book without paying royalties, at least in some places, why shuld the muggers be deprived of their royalties due them when their copyrighted mugs are used.

Then why not sue dead people?

BTW, suind dead people is harlmess, since the dead need not worry, so let us not be too critical of RIIA for suing the dead.

I wonder no one thought of this before. I think I will patent the idea under the business method category.

p.s. Anyone is authorized to publish these comments.

Permalink to Comment


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