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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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December 19, 2008

RIAA Declares Jihad Over; ISPs to Slap Wrists (for now)

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Ars trumpeted the headline as "RIAAStock 08 Peace & Music" but I think that's a bit overblown. Still, it's a surprising turn of events.

After years of grinding trench warfare and tens of thousands of lawsuits, the RIAA has worked out a deal with the major ISPs to have them do the enforcement, voluntarily. ISPs will get notices and, using their own internal data, map the target IP address to a user. That user then gets a "knock it off" warning from the ISP. Penalties are coming, make no mistake, but they're not here yet. CNET posted a copy of the letter that the RIAA will send to ISPs.

Anderson's story on ars highlights the win-win in this deal. ISPs win in that they see P2P sharing as a major drain on their bandwidth. Cringely had a thing or two to say about this back in November, essentially pointing out that bandwidth costs are dropping fast and by establishing caps now - in a mode of presumed scarcity - the ISPs set themselves up to be able to charge more for raising the bandwidth caps in the future.

The RIAA wins by extracting itself from a public relations quagmire. In theory they can still go after people who ignore notices, but they're much less likely to be embarrassed trying to sue people in housing projects and suchlike. They claim they'll continue pursuing cases already underway but I am now more certain than ever that they'll just drop suits that they see as losers anyway, like the Tenebaum case. Furthermore I'll bet they'll use this agreement as an argument for getting Nesson's countersuit mooted.

Anderson notes (but doesn't point to) a supposed study by "UK media lawyers Wiggin" in the UK that purports to show that people are less likely to share files if they know they're being tracked. I went and looked at the Wiggin news articles section (presuming he means the entity known as "Wiggin LLP") and couldn't find anything to support this claim. Even if so, Wiggin is a law firm that represents the Cartel in the UK. Issuing a finding in support of their clients isn't all that surprising, but I wouldn't treat it either as news or good science.

Over on ZDNet, Sam Diaz sounds a warning note that ISPs would do well to heed: taking enforcement action based on an unsubstantiated third-party allegations could put the ISPs in the position of maintaining blacklists or even getting themselves sued by irate customers. Last year Comcast got itself sued for traffic-shaping. I can imagine many scenarios where the RIAA's mistakes could lead to ISPs having to defend themselves in front of judges.

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