Back to School for Students, Back to War for RIAA
Aug 31, 2007 4:00 AM PT
The Electronic Frontier (EFF) on Wednesday issued a report critical of the music industry's litigation campaign to reduce digital piracy.
"Today, downloading from P2P (peer-to-peer) networks is more popular than ever, despite the widespread public awareness of lawsuits," the report declared. "At the same time, the lawsuit campaign has enriched only lawyers, rather than compensating artists for file sharing.
"One thing is become clear: Suing music fans is no answer to the P2P dilemma," it argued.
"If the recording industry is serious about luring music fans away from P2P networks and other methods of sharing," the report added, "it should be focusing more attention on dangling a tasty carrot, rather than swatting more individuals with the lawsuit stick."
P2P Usage Unabated
The report maintained that the music industry's litigation campaign carried out by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has done little to curb the popularity of the main channel for illegal traffic in tunes, peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.
Citing numbers from Internet traffic watcher Big Champagne, the EFF noted that the monthly average of global users on P2P networks from August 2003 to June 2005 increased 130 percent, from 3.85 million to 8.87 million.
On the other hand, the RIAA contends its efforts have been effective in reducing piracy and raising public awareness about the problem.
The organization this month noted that music downloads over P2P networks has grown only modestly during the time it has been aggressively pursuing copyright violators.
From April 2003 to March 2007, households downloading music over P2P networks grew from 6.9 million to 7.8 million, or 13 percent.
Message Being Delivered
The RIAA's statement also cited a Business Software Alliance survey that revealed the number of youths illegally downloading music now has dropped significantly while the music industry's litigation campaign has been in effect.
That survey showed that from 2004 to 2007, youths who reported that they downloaded music without paying for it decreased from 53 to 30 percent.
What's more, internal RIAA polls show the organization's enforcement efforts have raised public consciousness about the issue.
In June 2003, only 37 percent of poll respondents thought it was illegal to make music free from a computer. Now, the RIAA backgrounder said, that number has increased to 73 percent.
Legal Downloading Remains Small
It also reported that digital music sales through legitimate channels is on the rise. Total sales, which includes downloads, mobile sales and subscription services, rose 73 percent from 2005 to 2006.
While growth looks rosy, actual sales pale compared to what's happening on the P2P networks, the EFF report maintained.
From April 2003 to January 2007, the largest online purveyor of music, the Apple iTunes store, sold 2 billion downloads, the report noted. The number of files swapped over P2P networks, it said, is estimated at 8 billion a month.
"The authorized music services suffer from three critical shortcomings when compared to unauthorized alternatives (1) anti-consumer digital right management restrictions; (2) limited inventory; and (3) high prices," the EFF contended.
A recent RIAA target has been college campuses. In February, the organization launched a specific campaign to get college and university administrators to crack down on piracy at their institutions.
The reaction by universities to the campaign has been mixed, according to EFF Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann.
"Some universities have taken the strong position that they are not going to play an enforcement role on behalf of the RIAA," he told the E-Commerce Times.
"Other universities have taken different approaches," he continued. "Stanford recently said that they were going to start charging students every time they got a copyright complaint.
"Universities are trying to come up with different approaches," he added. "From our perspective, the smartest thing for them to do would be to say, 'We're willing to pay, but we're not willing to spy on our students or be your unpaid police force.'"
Free Trumps Paid
Just how many universities are willing to pay for their students' listening pleasure remains questionable.
"A couple of years ago, we were advocating and marketing a subscription for-pay service to the college and university market, but the problem with that was that it was nearly impossible to find anyone that was willing to pay for such a service," Ruckus CEO Mike Bebel told the E-Commerce Times.
It wasn't until Ruckus, in Herndon, Va., launched a free, advertising-based model that it began to gain some traction in the market, he said.
When Ruckus was charging institutions a site license to distribute music on their networks, he observed, many schools were paying for the license with student activity funds.
"Some of the feedback and backlash from the student bodies was very vehement," he recalled. "They said, 'We don't want you taking funds and allocating it to this.'"