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Kinder, Gentler RIAA

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, October 20, 2003; 9:32 AM

Sue first, ask questions later. That was the recording industry's tactic last month, when 261 people nationwide were sued for allegedly engaging in online music piracy.

The public backlash to the suits was immediate, prompting the Recording Industry Association of America to agree that, in the future, it would issue warnings before formally filing lawsuits. On Friday, the industry made good on that promise, announcing that it had sent letters to 204 people informing them that they face imminent legal action.

_____About Filter_____
Filter looks at the day's top technology news through snapshots and analysis of what the world's media outlets are covering. Washingtonpost.com's new Mon.-Fri. feature is penned by technology reporter Cynthia L. Webb. If a technology story breaks, a company falters or triumphs, or there's a new trend in technology, Filter wants you to know about it.

_____Filter Archive_____
Wired for Security (washingtonpost.com, Jan 20, 2005)
For Techs, Are Happy Days Here Again? (washingtonpost.com, Jan 19, 2005)
Video Game Dream Team (washingtonpost.com, Jan 18, 2005)
A Failing Upgrade for the FBI (washingtonpost.com, Jan 14, 2005)
New Year's Hacks (washingtonpost.com, Jan 13, 2005)
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According to The Associated Press, the "letters give the recipients 10 days to contact the RIAA to discuss a settlement and avoid a formal lawsuit. The RIAA declined to identify the individuals, but said they were sharing an average of more than 1,000 songs on their computers. The advanced notice also could help the RIAA avoid embarrassment. Last month's targets included a 12-year-old girl and a grandmother who claimed she was falsely accused of sharing rap songs. Many of the accused learned of the lawsuits when they were called by reporters."
AP via The Los Angeles Times: Targets Warned of Music Download Suits (Registration required)

"In light of the comments we have heard, we want to go the extra mile and offer illegal file sharers an additional chance to work this out short of legal action," RIAA President Cary Sherman said in an oft-quoted statement.

Robert Andris, partner at Silicon Valley law firm Ropers Majeski, told The San Jose Mercury News that the RIAA was sending the letters to keep Congress from "cracking down on its anti-piracy tactics." Andris: "If there was enough of a public backlash against filing suits against these direct infringers, these file swappers, Congress could sit down and say 'we'll write an exception,' which would be horrible for the record industry."
The San Jose Mercury News: RIAA Sends Warning To File Sharers

The New York Times explained more about how Congress influenced the RIAA's change in tactics. "The decision to warn people before going to court was announced last month at a Senate hearing by Mitch Bainwol, the chairman and chief executive of the [RIAA]. Mr. Bainwol announced that change in response to Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, who harshly questioned the industry's legal tactics," an article from Saturday said. "The new mailing, which went out in two batches on Monday and [Friday], shows that the music industry is neither slowing down nor backing off in its efforts to scare consumers away from copyright infringement. Yesterday, an official of the recording industry group said that the message from lawmakers to proceed more cautiously had been received, and acted upon." According to the Associated Press, Tom Steward, a Coleman spokesman, said, "The senator certainly thinks it's a step in the right direction, and wishes it had happened sooner."
The New York Times: Record Industry Warns 204 Before Suing On Swapping (Registration required)
The Associated Press via washingtonpost.com: Targets Warned of Music Download Suits

The Wall Street Journal noted that the RIAA "has settled about 20% of those [previous] cases for around $2,000 each. The organization initially was unapologetic about complaints that its lawsuits were heavy-handed, maintaining that the industry isn't campaigning for popularity but trying to save itself. But the current round of warnings seems to signal a desire to soften the stance."
The Wall Street Journal: Music Industry Sends Warnings On Alleged Piracy (Subscription required)

No Surprise: Warnings Not Enough For Some

Expect more objections to the continued wave of RIAA suits, which many see as a tactic that will only alienate music-loving consumers. "The lawsuits are the record industry's reaction to a 31 percent decline in CD sales in the United States in the past three years, a sharp drop that coincides with the rise of popular file-sharing networks like Kazaa and Gnutella, used by millions of people around the world to swap free copies of songs," The San Francisco Chronicle noted. "The recording industry has placed most of the blame for its slump in sales on online piracy, but critics say the industry is also plagued by other factors, such as the slow economy and competition from DVDs, video games and other forms of entertainment, as well as bad music." Critics of the RIAA have contended that over-priced CDs, not file-swapping networks, have led to the decline in sales.
The San Francisco Chronicle: RIAA Warns 204 More People It Plans To Sue

RIAA critics are unmoved by the warning letters. "The record companies still aren't listening to their fans," Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Wendy Seltzer said in a statement. "Instead of continuing their litigation crusade, the record labels should give their customers the option to pay a reasonable fee to continue file-sharing."

StopRIAAlawsuits.com plans to start "calling for a one week boycott of major label music in response to Friday's announcement of the next round of filesharing lawsuits. This time the RIAA sent letters demanding settlements before filing lawsuits, which from the target's perspective is no better -- they have to pay or get sued just as in the previous round. The only difference is that it cuts the press out of the loop because there won't be public documents identifying the people being sued. It lets the RIAA escape more embarrassing stories about 12 year-olds. The Stop RIAA Lawsuits Coalition, which DownhillBattle.org is a part of, is a group of over 112 websites that have joined together to call for this boycott and demand an end to the suits," wrote Downhillbattle.org's Nicholas Reville in an e-mail to Filter today. The group claimed in a posting last week that 100 Websites have joined the RIAA boycott.

Talk With Coleman Online Today

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) is scheduled to participate in a live online discussion on washingtonpost.com today at 11 a.m. ET. He'll be talking about his criticisms of the RIAA legal strategy. Submit a question or comment.

A New RIAA Ally?

The New York Times reported today that the "European Union is preparing to enact a sweeping intellectual property law that critics say is ill-conceived and tilted heavily in favor of copyright and patent holders. The proposal would go far beyond existing laws in Europe and the United States by classifying copyright violations and patent infringements, even some unwitting ones, as crimes punishable by prison terms." According to the Times, attorneys "who have studied a draft of the proposed law say that not only could a teenager who downloaded a music file be sent to jail under it; so too could managers of the Internet service provider that the teenager happened to use, whether they knew what the teenager was doing or not."
The New York Times: Europe's Antipiracy Proposal Draws Criticism (Registration required)

Microsoft Responds To EU Regulators

Microsoft has filed its reply to the European Union's antitrust probe, a move that came even though the company said "earlier this month that it wanted more time," The Associated Press reported. "We've now received the reply which we will now be reviewing," said European Commission antitrust spokeswoman Amelia Torres told the AP. There were no details on what the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant had to say. "We have nothing to add at this point," Microsoft spokeswoman Tiffany Steckler told The New York Times. "Even though the commission has set aside Nov. 12-14 for a hearing, the decision on whether to go ahead with it rests with Microsoft. According to Ms. Steckler, that decision has not yet been made," the article said. "The commission's latest action in the case, known as its third formal statement of objections, was sent to Microsoft 10 weeks ago, and it reiterated earlier concerns about the way the company does business. A final ruling by the commission is expected in the first months of next year."
The Associated Press via washingtonpost.com: Microsoft Responds To EU Charges On Time
The New York Times: Microsoft Responds To European Regulators In Antitrust Case (Registration required)

A Networking Revival?

Networking was the end-all and be-all of the dot-com era. But as fortunes fizzled, a number of key networking events in major tech centers crumbled - their costs too high and worker productivity perhaps at too much of a premium for hobnobbing. Enter job site Monster.com, which has a new plan that appears to capitalize on the hunger for more networking events. "Monster announced Monday the launch of a professional networking service called Monster Networking, which borrows from the playbook of online dating and alumni sites such as Match.com and Classmates.com," The Wall Street Journal said. "The career Web site ... hopes the subscription-based service will help both job seekers and employed people who want to exchange information about jobs or goals. Monster says that the networking product will enable the site to re-engage its 40 million members, many of whom are well past the typical six to nine month initial period of activity and merely have resumes in the Monster database," the article said.
The Wall Street Journal: Job Site Monster Announces Career Networking Service (Subscription required)

Not Your Father's Television, Or Art

Televisions are playing dual roles as pieces of art as technology revamps the look of TVs from clunky boxes to sleek wall hangings. The Boston Globe wrote about the trend today: Near the entrance of King County, Washington's, "Shoreline Library, just north of Seattle, paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir, and other artists cycle across the 42-inch screen of a plasma TV. An even larger television, 50 inches measured diagonally, is scheduled for installation in the nearby Bellevue Regional Library and will soon carry the same high-definition digital images. RGB Labs Inc., a start-up in Seattle, supplies the artwork through a $3,000 server attached to the television. The image changes every five minutes, rotating through about 150 photographs, classical paintings, and contemporary pieces."

According to the Globe, "[s]ales of large digital televisions have multiplied in the last few years and are expected to keep up the furious pace, as technologies improve and prices drop. As these monstrous screens take up more wall space in living rooms and public places, several companies have begun selling services for filling them with artwork. ... More than 229,000 plasma televisions will be sold in the United States this year, up from 16,000 in 2001, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group in Arlington, Va. The association predicts that more than 2 million plasma TVs will be sold by 2007."
The Boston Globe: As Sales of Large Digital Televisions Multiply, Several Firms Are Selling Services To Fill Them With Artwork

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