RIAA Cracks Down on Net Pirates

During the first half of this year, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) notified more than 4,500 Web sites in the United States that that they were breaking the law by illegally trafficking copyrighted material, according to statistics released Tuesday.

That figure represents a 200 percent increase over the number of notices sent out during all of 1999, according to the Washington, D.C.-based trade organization.

“The investment our members made in anti-piracy efforts this year has begun to show significant returns,” said Frank Creighton, RIAA senior vice president and director of anti-piracy.

The Cost of Infringement

The RIAA estimates that the music industry loses about $300 million (US$) a year to copyright thieves, not including losses to cyber-pirates. Although the RIAA does not currently have a way to track losses due to Internet piracy, a report released Tuesday by Forrester Research predicts that by 2005, the music industry will lose $3.1 billion to online pirates.

The RIAA could not speculate on the accuracy of the Forrester numbers without knowing what methodology the analysts used. Creighton told the E-Commerce Times that Forrester analysts did not contact the RIAA for information regarding copyright infringement and that he is unsure if the numbers take into account the RIAA’s anti-piracy efforts.

“They do not know what plans we have in place for copyright enforcement,” Creighton said, adding that the RIAA is currently conducting its own study to determine how much the labels lose each year due to Internet piracy.

Notices and Litigation

Identifying digital offenders requires a team of Internet specialists and a 24-hour automated Web crawler to spot offending sites. Once sites are identified, the RIAA sends e-mails warning them that they are in violation of copyright law or, in the case of auctions, requesting that the offending auction be removed.

In addition to the 4,500 notices sent out to pirate sites in the first six months of this year, the group notified 460 link sites that were “facilitating the downloading of unauthorized files,” an increase of 100 notices from all of last year.

The first six months of 2000 have also seen more than 1,600 online auctions of counterfeit or pirated CDs removed because of the RIAA’s efforts, a 348 percent increase over the 375 removals during the first half of 1999.

If e-mail is not enough, the RIAA moves on to stronger actions, up to and including litigation. In the past year, the RIAA has been involved in several high-profile cases against music-sharing sites, including Napster and MP3.com.

College Campuses Targeted

One group that the RIAA has in its crosshairs is college students who have easy access to computers and high-speed Internet connections through their schools. College officials across the U.S. regularly receive notices from the RIAA that one or more of their students is a potential copyright violator.

It is then up to the college to take action or face litigation, and many are choosing action. Earlier this year, heavy metal band Metallica named Yale University, the University of California and Indiana University as defendants in its lawsuit against Napster, but dropped them when they banned students from using the service.

Looking for Deterrence

Earlier this month, in response to an RIAA tip, Oklahoma State University police raided a 19 year-old student’s room and confiscated his computer and other equipment. The student’s computer is currently being analyzed by computer forensics experts.

Pending the results of the investigation, the student could be facing felony copyright infringement charges.

Although Creighton said it would be “unfortunate” if the OSU student ends up with a felony record for the rest of his life, he did say that such high-profile actions act as a deterrent to other would-be pirates.

He said that other students who might have been contemplating digital piracy surely had heard about the case and “decided it just ain’t worth it.”

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