The US music industry association, RIAA, has canned its strategy of suing online music pirates, according to the WSJ. This comes after 5 years of using the services of security firm MediaSentry to document the sharing of music files in order to prosecute the pimply teens behind that nefarious activity. Some 35,000 lawsuits were filed and many are still ongoing (RIAA says it will continue to pursue any legal action in flight).
MediaSentry is a unit of SafeNet, Inc., the largest provider of security technology to the US government. SafeNet is a $300m-revenue business that was taken private by software buyout specialist Vector Capital a couple of years ago. MediaSentry's technology is also used by the Motion Picture Association and eBay, among others, to detect copyright infringements on the Web.
RIAA's change in strategy is an admission of failure. The same proportion of people aged 13 and over admit to using P2P networks to share music today as did 5 years ago, before RIAA launched its campaign (about 20%, according to a 2008 NPD report). In fact, 26% of tweens (aged 9-14) use illegal file sharing services. Perhaps that's the stat that did it -- surely even RIAA realises that suing pre-teen children may have adverse PR effects.
RIAA's focus now is on a so-called 'graduated response' -- getting ISPs and university authorities to warn and eventually fine prolific file sharers. It's hard to see how that will be more effective.
Perhaps RIAA is just continuing to 'make work' so that the music studios who finance it don't cut its budget. How do you justify the existence of an association whose primary public role in recent years has been to chase file sharers, when the publishers are busy lanuching DRM-free download deals with online music vendors?
The smallest of the Big 4 labels, EMI, led the way, stunning the industry by dropping DRM encryption across its repertoire in April 2007. The other labels followed with similar, if more limited, initiatives: first Universal, then Warner Music and last November Sony BMG.
RIAA's move is welcome, but if the association wants to extend its life it would do better to invest in coming up with a new system of royalty payments for music that is distributed P2P. Now that would be useful.
Pic credits: Xboxic, Slate/Cincinatti Post.