RIAA turns focus to Somali Pirates

Not really. But, that was the headline for this topic over at Steve Terrell’s blog. And I consider him the guru of music and politics.

In a stunning turn of events, the US music industry has ceased its long-time litigation strategy of suing individual P2P file-swappers. Instead, with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo acting as a broker, the RIAA has signed voluntary “graduated response” agreements with major Internet service providers. Those currently on the receiving end of an RIAA lawsuit, though, will have to see it through to the (very) bitter end.

While the agreement itself comes as a surprise after years of lawsuits that have numbered in the tens of thousands, the contours of the deal remain comfortably familiar. Europe is leading the way in hashing out graduated response programs, and the RIAA plan sounds like a mix of the current British and French approaches to the issues.

As in Britain, the deal is voluntary, has no official government enforcement, and will not have ISPs passing user information on to the RIAA. Instead, the RIAA notifies ISPs about suspected infringement using IP addresses; the ISP then privately looks up its subscriber information and forwards a notice telling the person to stop.

But, as in France, penalties are coming (the voluntary UK scheme is currently “notification only”). They remain undefined at the moment, though the RIAA confirms to Ars that they will include account suspension for users who continue to share files illegally.

The key difference between Europe and the US is the lack of government pressure. New York Attorney General Cuomo did make it clear to the music industry that the lawsuits have been unhelpful and that he hoped to see a different approach, but nothing like the government pressure to cut a deal that we have seen in the UK or France has been mooted here.

Which leads to the obvious question: what do ISPs get out of the deal? They aren’t under any serious pressure to act on this if they don’t believe it to be in the interests of their companies or subscribers, but the RIAA makes clear that several leading ISPs are already on board. But they do get a tremendous goodie bag under the Christmas tree: congestion relief.

Now, who do we talk to about putting out some better music?

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