Thoughts on RIAA's Court Win to ID Kazaa User

By Richard Menta 1/23/03

What caught my eye when I first read about the record industry's attempt to ID and prosecute a KaZaa user for trading music files is how average he or she seems to be. The profile that Declan McCullagh offers on the individual in his article "RIAA wins battle to ID Kazaa user" is quite sparse, and yet is still telling.

This alleged peer-to-peer pirate has been targeted for trading hundreds of files. Not thousands, but hundreds.


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In Napster's heyday when you could see the names of individual users and view just the files they had to offer there were plenty of folks who made available thousands of songs. Those Napster days are long gone, but more users are trading than ever and the number of files they each trade has also risen. I would think there were beter candidates. Certainly there are folk out there who share many more files.

It therefore makes me wonder if the Record Industry Association of America already knows the identity of this person. This is not a far fetched notion. Lawyers prefer to only ask defendants questions they already have the answer to. They do this as normal practice because there are no surprises that may backfire on them. If the RIAA does know who this person is, they have plenty of reasons to keep their mouths shut about it. Not only for tacticle reasons, how they found this information may cross into untested privacy issues that might put the RIAA itself on the wrong side of the law. This all leads to the big question "What make a small time trader in the Pittsburgh area so important"? I ask because I have my doubts the industry lobby left it all to random selection.

I personally find the act of suing file-traders distasteful. It's bullying pure and simple as well paid music industry legal teams take on families who can barely afford a lawyer to fight a traffic ticket. When faced with the cost of defending a son or daughter or husband for using KaZaa, these families quickly buckle, paying an expensive fine to end a nightmare that can easily leave them both fiscally ruined and personally humiliated.

"See", the record industry will say, "They admitted they were guilty. They are now going to admit that file trading is wro…stop squirming or I'll rip your arm off…wrong".

What if the person in Pittsburgh is a 13 year-old girl who looks quite wholesome and normal? Grilling Peggy Sue on the stand would not make good press for the industry. Now if the defendant were a 22 year-old male dropout with a drug problem and a few tattoos - you know, fans of Ozzy and Metallica, not boy bands (and if you catch my irony about label created images, good) - then he would make a wonderful poster boy for music piracy. A rousing example of a burnout who steals from the record companies and who uses the money he is not spending on CDs on booze and smokes.

I have no way to know if indeed the RIAA has already identified this person. I doubt that the unsuspecting individual has any clue they are in the industry's cross hairs. Not until the FBI is manipulated into raiding this persons home, confiscate their computer as they ransack the house for evidence, and then slap the cuffs on them to parade them in front of their neighbors into a waiting police car.

Do you think that person being marched off to jail will be a little girl in a pretty dress (picture that on TV)? I don't think it will be, but again I don't know. This is all speculation.

What I do know is that a judge ordered Verizon to name this person and that the order made the front page of USA Today as well as most of the other major periodicals. The record industry has everyone's attention and they want to use it to demonize this file trader in front of the whole world. They want to jail this person, vilify them, make them an example, and scare other consumers off of file trading in the process.

The record industry wants names to throw to the lions and use fear to keep the populace in check.

I am confident this strategy will backfire.

It backfired on the Roman Empire. It backfired on McCarthy during his communist witch-hunts. It backfired on the church at Salem.

It backfired because these acts only elicited mass sympathy for the victims. Victims who were unjustly murdered, jailed, and banned from employment. The record industry now wants to litter the world with its own set of victims, ruined needlessly for a strategy that has no chance of success. As I said, I find this all distasteful.

Verizon said it will appeal the ruling. For the sake of the potential targets of this pogrom, I hope they are successful.

Hillary Rosen to leave RIAA

One more note, yesterday afternoon RIAA CEO Hillary Rosen announced she was stepping down from the top position at the end of this year. Hillary says she wants to spend more time with her children, a very valid reason for a parent in her early 40's.

But there has been great personal backlash put on her from the very visible tactics she has lead the RIAA to employ over the past several years. Wired magazine this month called her the "The Most Hated Name in Music". The article has a photo of Hillary listening placidly to an Apple iPod.

Despit winning almost every major court ruling the RIAA was involved with, file trading has continued to exponentially grow. The industry wins the legal battles, but they are losing the war.

Maybe Hillary sees what's on the horizon and has decided now is the time to get off a runaway train. Maybe her skin is not as thick as she thought and the personal attacks (and threats, at one point she traveled only with security) have proven to much. Maybe she just misses her kids halfway through the work day.

And maybe, just maybe, this grassroots effort we call the Internet is dishing it back out to the music industry with considerably more force than it has been receiving it.

If that last statement is true, then taking this unknown KaZaa user and other file traders to task will only make that effort push back harder.

 



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