RIAA lawsuits might be a losing battle

The Recording Industry Association of America has just added non-purchased MP3s to its list of things to sue people for. Taking on file sharing networks, Internet service providers, colleges, and individuals, the RIAA’s efforts are akin to using a fly swatter to stop a swarm of locusts. Considering that 60 million Americans and millions more worldwide already frequently download music, the RIAA won’t succeed in stopping most violators of music copyright.

The music industry’s quest has gone too far in its pursuit of the individual. Consider the case of Jesse Jordan, a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute sophomore. The RIAA slapped him and three other students with a $900 million lawsuit. Jordan settled for $12,000, his entire life’s savings. The RIAA admits its lawsuits are for scare tactics, but to its chagrin, the number of downloaders continues to grow.

The RIAA is acting as if it is a hapless victim. The music industry stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the sheer power of online music and refuses to change with the tides of technology that threaten its sales. The RIAA believes antagonizing millions of tech-savvy Americans will lead to change, but it is just setting itself up for failure. Even if the RIAA succeeds in obtaining Internet user records and continues its suing spree, its lawsuits will have little effect outside the United States. Additionally, Americans, realizing the odds of being sued are small, will continue their behavior and find ways around being caught. So far, the RIAA has only succeeded in increasing public disdain and unwittingly advancing rogue technologies that improve anonymity.

Copyright is law and must be protected because our economic system depends on the ownership of ideas and goods. Like any profession, musicians should be able to profit off of their hard work and innovation. The RIAA has a right and reasonable reasons for wanting to protect the use of copyright material. However, like copyright issues of the past involving VCRs and copy machines, the RIAA will have to realize that perpetual litigation will likely not fully work. The music industry will have to learn to adapt to evolving technologies.