Thursday, March 08, 2007

RIAA vs. Colleges

The RIAA is increasing its efforts to stop downloading on college campuses. Their new strategy involves sending out settlement letters to students. The letters, presumably, will be more threatening than the current takedown notices they send out regularly. I happen to be our campus DMCA agent. I'm the one who receives those takedown notices and who forwards them to the students. I had read the article referenced above, but because we receive so few notices in the first place (about 1/month), I figured we probably didn't have anything to worry about. Monday morning, however, I received a notice that one of these letters would be sent soon. The language was indeed more threatening and the word "subpoena" appeared in the letter. So we traipsed off to the lawyer's office to discuss strategy.

I'm not thrilled to be the DMCA agent. I know downloading is illegal. I don't condone it. But I believe that it is (maybe just was) a reaction to an industry that didn't keep up with the capabilities of new technology. Even though the industry does now provide legal ways to download music, movies, and tv shows, there's still the DRM issue. Many people, myself included, have issues with DRM. For some, that means they find legal ways to obtain DRM-free music. Others resort to downloading.

Even though I will do my job as the DMCA agent, I was still feeling a little creepy about the whole thing. The new strategy felt a little more draconian, and I didn't want to become more draconian in response. Kenneth Green articulates a possible reason for my discomfort. College students may be unfairly targeted. Why isn't the RIAA going after more individuals in homes? Or better yet, people who make pirate copies of CDs and DVDs? In fact, Green says, the strategies offered by the RIAA to combat illegal downloading smack of extortion (one option is to provide access to legal music downloading). Green says that when asked about why the RIAA was focusing on colleges instead of ISPs, they said "the consumer broadband providers view litigation as a cost of doing business, while, in contrast, the RIAA knows that colleges and universities, when presented with the threat of litigation, will 'jump.'" In other words, we may be low-hanging fruit for them.

At some point, I think the RIAA is going to have to figure out ways to allow people to buy music legally and to share it legally, not via these P2P programs, but in similar ways that we always have--the digital version of mixtapes. DRM sometimes makes this difficult. Maybe I'm being idealistic, but maybe if they stop treating their consumers as criminals, they'll stop acting like criminals. A little mutual respect might go a long way.

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