By suing individual computer users, the Recording Industry Association of America has succeeded in curbing the online trading of unlicensed music files and herding peer-to-peer network users to licensed-music sites such as iTunes and Napster, according to a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
The Internet research organization found that the number of users accessing P2P sites and applications — including Kazaa, BearShare, Grokster and WinMX — plunged after the RIAA in September began its legal campaign of more than 1,500 subpoenas, 382 lawsuits and 220 settlements.
However, the recording industry was dealt a blow last month when a U.S. Circuit Court ruled that the RIAA’s subpoenas served to ISPs were invalid, likely making the legal campaign more expensive for the industry association. In addition, the Pew findings indicate a download decrease only in the United States, while illegal file sharing among Internet users around the world remains strong, according to Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman.
“There are so many files being shared internationally, particularly in places the RIAA can’t touch, it’s irrelevant to go after sharers because there’s such a big loophole in their strategy,” Goodman told TechNewsWorld. “Even if they closed off sharing in every country with copyright laws, there are still tons of countries you can’t touch.”
Goodman said the Pew survey results, which indicate a drop from about 35 million music downloaders to 18 million after the lawsuits began, jibe with Yankee’s findings on the subject.
He added that casual downloaders have been effectively moved away from illegal file sharing to the use of legitimate services, which typically charge about US$1 per track or $8 per album. As for teens and young adults, Goodman credited file-sharing declines to awareness on the part of their parents.
Pew Internet & American Life senior research specialist John Horrigan told TechNewsWorld that the RIAA’s “litigation outburst” has affected interest in and use of free file-sharing programs.
However, referring to the power of both the Internet and music, Horrigan said the RIAA’s litigation does not change people’s interest in using the Web to find, listen to and share music.
The RIAA claimed the Pew survey is a validation of its own claims about the success of seeking out and suing individuals alleged to be uploading and trading music files on the Internet.
“This is another encouraging indication that we are on the right track,” said RIAA chairman and chief executive officer Mitch Bainwol in a statement. “We must continue on this course. It is essential to fostering an environment where legal online music services can flourish.”
Nevertheless, the legal strategy will have to change because of the D.C. Circuit Court ruling that invalidated the RIAA’s subpoenas, which were based on the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). After the ruling, however, RIAA president Cary Sherman said the lawsuits, which will now be so-called John Doe suits in which the accused are not identified until the actual court case, will continue. The RIAA might also appeal the decision but has not yet indicated its intentions.
Yankee’s Goodman said the court decision — an appeal by Verizon based on its challenge of the RIAA subpoenas — is significant because it raises the cost of the lawsuits.
“Before, they had these blanket lawsuits,” he noted. “Now, they’re going to have to do individuals.”
Pushed Off P2P
Another factor that is not reflected in the Pew survey, according to Goodman, is the movement of online music file sharing from P2P applications to other avenues, such as instant messaging and e-mail.
“We definitely see there is now a measurable amount of file sharing via instant messaging — and the amount on e-mail is also increasing,” he said. While P2P use might be down, he added, there is an increase in alternative file-sharing networks.
“It’s not as clean or as simple as P2P, but people are going to trade music regardless of what the industry does,” Goodman said.