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The Age of Digital Darwinism

25 Feb, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

So, content providers won a round in their bid to demand (and get) the identities of individual file sharers from their Internet service providers (ISPs) so they can bring the battle against piracy to consumers' front doors.

I wrote about this almost a year ago and guess what? It's not going to work any better now than it would have then.

A federal court recently ordered Verizon to give up the name of a customer the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said was illegally trading copyrighted material (Verizon is appealing the decision). Another hearing in the matter is scheduled for tomorrow. That may make identifying file traders easier, but I don't think it will do much to help RIAA, for a few reasons.

First of all, anybody who's been online for, oh, a week or so, knows there are so many ISPs out there they can switch whenever they like. If I were illegally trading files, I would change my service provider often to escape notice.

Now, that may seem like an obvious ploy that would be easy for RIAA to defeat, if not for one key point: RIAA regards technology much like cave men regarded fire. And understands it about as well.

Consider that the RIAA Web site, RIAA.org, has been hacked seven times in the last six months. As I write this, the feds are looking into who kept the site down for at least four or five days.

These people would have us believe they understand, embrace and support digital technology. But obviously they can't protect their Web site any better than they can protect their CDs, which leads me to view them in the same light as cave men: chin-stroking, head-scratching, cranially challenged folk who still wonder why it burns every time they stick their hands into the flames. If only they could harness that new discovery!

I wonder how much this has to do with Hillary Rosen's decision to quit her job as RIAA president by the end of the year. It can be pretty embarrassing to spend so much time squawking about how technology is looting your industry, especially when that industry is still paying out a nationwide class action settlement to consumers for keeping CD prices artificially high (check out musicscdettlement.com to claim your $20).

Especially when artists like Eminem have a No. 1 CD on its first day in release because selected songs were leaked and traded online in advance; and artists like Jack Johnson, who likely would never have been noticed commercially, can create demand by offering their wares online when record companies ignore them. It makes blaming file traders for the industry's decline a tough sell.

That ‘s doubly true for MPAA, which seems to take no interest in recovering the copies of Academy Award screeners up for sale on eBay. Not past hits, mind you, but titles like About Scmidt and The Hours that are still in theaters.

Welcome to digital Darwinism, a world in which only the tech-savvy survive.

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