The record industry has dropped its longtime legal strategy of targeting individuals suspected of sharing music files online and is working instead with Internet service providers to send warnings before considering a lawsuit.
The new strategy, disclosed Friday, doesn't mean the Recording Industry Association of America will stop filing lawsuits. However, legal action will be directed only at people who ignore repeated notices. The new tactic would have not affect on pending lawsuits.
The RIAA told The Wall Street Journal that the industry was changing to a tactic that it believed would be more effective in reducing the amount of illegal file sharing that takes place on peer-to-peer Web sites.
Indeed, critics have said that the thousands of lawsuits the RIAA has filed against individuals have failed to make a dent in the number of illegal downloads, while bringing lots of negative publicity. The industry has sometimes found itself in a public relations nightmare in targeting several single mothers, a dead person, and a 13-year-old girl, among others.
The RIAA's lack of effectiveness so far is reflected in the latest numbers from consulting firm the NPD Group. In the third quarter of this year, the number of people sharing music on P2P sites held steady at 14%, but the number of tracks shared rose by 23%. In the meantime, CD sales continue to plummet.
Under the new strategy, the RIAA is working with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and ISPs on a number of voluntary online anti-piracy initiatives that would include service providers passing along RIAA copyright infringement notices to subscribers. Those people who ignore repeated notices would face the possibility of having their service reduced and possibly suspended before a lawsuit is considered.
In return for ISP cooperation, the RIAA would no longer file lawsuits to force the service providers to turn over identifying information of suspected illegal file sharers.
Besides the negative publicity from past lawsuits, the RIAA has recently come under fire from the legal front. Harvard Law School professor Charles Nesson last month filed a brief in federal court in Boston challenging the RIAA's use of the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 in suing online music sharers. Nesson claimed the act is "an unconstitutional delegation by Congress of executive prosecutorial powers to private hands."
Nesson is defending Joel Tenenbaum, a Boston University graduate student who is accused in an RIAA suit of illegally downloading songs. Nesson represented Daniel Ellsberg of Watergate fame in the 1970s.