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The Music Industry's Messy Battle Over Copyrights

4 May, 2003 By: Kurt Indvik

The Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) recent court victory over Verizon to cough up the names of Internet service subscribers suspected of trading in pirated music, and its online consumer enforcement maneuvers is the music industry's latest tactic in battling online downloading and trading of entertainment.

The RIAA's frontal assault on the consumer is made all the more interesting with the recent federal court ruling that companies that provide the peer-to-peer software Internet users employ to share sometimes pirated music cannot be held liable for what these people are doing with their software. The RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) plan on appealing that decision.

As senior editor Holly Wagner points out in her article, both these decisions push digital copyright enforcement down to the consumer level. This is getting to be a very messy affair for the music industry, with the RIAA sending out hundreds of thousands of instant messages to users of Grokster and KaZaa warning them not to share copyrighted music. They can even reach into online log files and go after individuals trading in copyrighted material.

Privacy groups and online rights organizations are urging Verizon to appeal the ruling, which it has vowed to do.

The battle being fought by the music industry must have those in the movie business who are monitoring this situation shuddering at the thought of such a scenario ever occurring in any possible future digital copyright protection battle for movies.

Even as the music industry tries to construct easy-to-use, low-cost digital download services for its customers, it's engaged in hand-to-hand combat with them regarding free file-sharing. It's a no-win situation for the music industry that, while it has every right to protect its copyrighted product, is finding the Internet an almost impossible environment in which to enforce that protection.

For the time being, the MPAA is targeting hardware providers in state and federal legislation efforts as the point of control for illegally copying and/or electronically sharing copyrighted material. Hardware manufacturers, through the Consumer Electronics Association, are pushing back that they would be unduly burdened with what they feel is a software issue, and by what they feel would be inappropriate enforcement of otherwise fair use practices by customers using their hardware.

The issue may, indeed, come down to fair use and, as some video industry analysts have expected, that could lead dangerously close to aspects of the First Sale Doctrine, on which the development of the video rental business was founded.



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