The RIAA's Amnesty Program - a Sucker Deal.

By Richard Menta 9/5/03

It is expensive for the RIAA to litigate against individual file traders. The truth is there are simply too many of them. Unfortunately, it is also expensive for every individual file trader they sue. Those unlucky individuals will have to crack open the family piggy bank everytime their lawyer makes a call to the industry lobby.

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That's why the threats of individual suits has seemed to slow file trading as those who download music become more cautious. Victories are phyrric when your lawyer hands you a bill in the six figures and losses...well, the cost of appeal is quite daunting.

To turn up the heat, the RIAA is now offering an amnesty program. I have a problem with this on several levels.

First, amnesty implies one has done something wrong. Is file trading wrong? We at have been struggling with this question for years and we are still not convinced it is (though there are plenty of compelling arguments). Court cases and vague federal laws say it is illegal, but it was once a crime to marry outside your race so the laws over time can easily adjust to be more favorable to file trading.

Let's be honest, is the record industry really losing $150,000 per song copy when someone downloads a tune from KaZaa. That is the maximum penalty by existing law and the price the RIAA is demanding per song, per person in each of their court cases.

Second, amnesty implies relief. Not here.

The program requires the user to complete an amnesty form that they must notarize. The form states that the user has deleted all of their digital music files from their PCs (except for those purchased from services like iTunes), destroy all of their CD-Rs and promise never to do it again.

The RIAA then wants a copy of a photo ID. If the user ever downloads a file again, the RIAA knows who they are and where they live. In essense, anyone who accepts this amnesty is freely giving up their anonymity and their privacy.

Will some people give up their idenities. Sadly, some probably will.

You see, this is not an amnesty but a cloaked way to invade the privacy of users by tricking consumers into individually and voluntarily give up name, address, age, music tastes and more. Who the hell is the RIAA to store our photo and personal information on their database. Info I'm sure they will pass on to the marketing departments of member record companies.

It gets worse than that. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) since "...the RIAA does NOT represent all copyright holders. It acts only for artists and labels, not songwriters or publishers who could still sue after obtaining subpoenas for the information you provided to the RIAA...". In other words you are painting a bullseye on your person for others to take shots at.

If you are really concerned that they are going to get you, you can do something about it - stop trading. Yes, stop trading.

Then stop buying records from RIAA members.

If you have to deny yourself music online then deny yourself CDs produced by the entity threatening you. This is the power YOU have and it is a great one.

Instead, look at the music from independent record companies.

Most independents are not RIAA members and they have seen record sales soar in the wake of file trading because file trading exposes users to their music, something that tight radio song lists and MTV do not do. (see the Christian Science Monitor's story Indies Blossoming Despite RIAA)

File trading is a promotional tool for these independents. The irony is that research shows file trading benefits the RIAA members too. The part of the industry represented by the RIAA blames lost sales on file trading, but reality seems to point more to bad PR from bullying industry tactics that regularly make the front page of America's news media. The heavy media coverage has made consumers angry.

Recent polls show that file trading has dropped 22% after the program to sue file traders was announced. It also shows that during that same period the drop in CD sales accelerated. Many people are already saying no with their wallets.

Customer anger is not an effect that is easily measured in the marketplace, so its frequently dismissed by those who want to put blame elsewhere. It is a very real issue though and can be devastating to any industry.

The actions of the record lobby belie the fact that consumers are already starting to mass reject their product. Universal has already announced a drop in list prices to $12.99 in reaction and the rest of the big labels are expected to follow. This is a significant plus for consumers who for years have complained against rising CD prices. It's a move that, in our opinion, will do more to counteract the recent drops in sales for RIAA members because it returns some value to those shiny plastic discs. Lower prices are long overdue and is a better motivator to buy than chasing file traders with lawsuits and amnesty programs.

Our advice? Ignore the RIAA's benevolent offer of amnesty. Don't give them your name. Don't give them your picture. If you do, they may use it later against you.


Other MP3 stories:
CDs and the Scarcity Principle
Review: The Archos AV320 MediaBox
Copyrights: Two-thirds of Adult File Traders Couldn't Care Less.

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