Back in July, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) subpoenaed Verizon Internet Services, Inc. to submit the name of an Internet user who, in one day, downloaded more than 600 songs. On Tuesday, January 21, Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered Verizon to comply with the RIAA subpoena. Cary Sherman of the RIAA says the industry group looks forward to contacting the Verizon subscriber, "so we can let them know that what they are doing is illegal."
I commend Sarah B. Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon, for refusing to comply with the subpoena. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), copyright holders can subpoena an infringer's information without filing a lawsuit. The ruling will allow anyone who makes a copyright infringement claim to gain access to private subscriber information. Gadzooks! I'm frightened. Hold me. ISPs could face privacy lawsuits from subscribers if the ruling holds up.
On the one hand, I can see how the RIAA wants to protect the livelihood of recording artists. I know some starving musicians, after a recording deal, extended touring and a Big Name Brand television commercial, whose children now have clothing and an educational future. After all, these Rock and Roll families DEPEND on the consumable integrity of their recorded works.
On the other hand, Little Johnny Iowa is not going to topple the entire recording industry by making a few compilation CDs. Technically, yes, it's illegal. It always has been. But crafting a compilation tape here and there has not yet made a negative impact on one single big name recording company. In fact, it's more likely served as free promotion. Maybe you're playing your nifty new compilation CD in the office. Joe Worker walks by and says, "Say. Is that the new Yanni CD? That sounds great! I hear it has a really spiffy set of collectible covers. I'm going to race back to my desk and order the whole set from Amazon, including the imports!" Or, maybe you accidentally leave your cherished, pirated John Tesh compilation CD on the bus. Someone picks it up and listens to it and just HAS to buy ALL of John Tesh's work. See what I'm saying? It's not like we're all going to spend the rest of our lives searching Google for name-brand music to pirate and redistribute on the Black Market. Besides, folks I know who download music don't generally download the entire recording. And if they are so big a fan as to download the entire works of an artist or band, they probably went to all the concerts and bought all the records, CDs, imports and bootleg recordings they could get their hands on. Further, hardcore music fanatics who tend to scour the Internet are looking for one-of-a-kind versions of tunes illegally recorded on someone's shoe tape recorder at a live show. So, what? Is the RIAA going to ask the company who sold the tape recorder for their accounts receivable records, then call up Jack Taper and tell him, "No, no, no. You're breaking the law?" I don't think so.
We all know the RIAA is really afraid that Internet technology will open up the recording market for the improved success of independent recording labels. Which is stupid because capitalism thrives on competitive markets. The RIAA would merely be forced to explore the untapped market of TALENTED individuals, thereby improving their own market longevity.
Meanwhile, since we're going to have a China/US Submarine Cable Network, you'd think that the RIAA would be welcoming the potential for some free, overseas promotion.