From the Wall Street Journal:
Music Industry to Abandon Mass Suits
By SARAH MCBRIDE and ETHAN SMITH
After years of suing thousands of people for allegedly stealing music via
the Internet, the recording industry is set to drop its legal assault as it
searches for more effective ways to combat online music piracy.
The decision represents an abrupt shift of strategy for the industry, which
has opened legal proceedings against about 35,000 people since 2003.
Critics say the legal offensive ultimately did little to stem the tide of
illegally downloaded music. And it created a public-relations disaster for
the industry, whose lawsuits targeted, among others, several single
mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl.
Instead, the Recording Industry Association of America said it plans to
try an approach that relies on the cooperation of Internet-service
providers. The trade group said it has hashed out preliminary agreements
with major ISPs under which it will send an email to the provider when it
finds a provider's customers making music available online for others to
Depending on the agreement, the ISP will either forward the note to
customers, or alert customers that they appear to be uploading music
illegally, and ask them to stop. If the customers continue the file-
sharing, they will get one or two more emails, perhaps accompanied by
slower service from the provider. Finally, the ISP may cut off their access
The RIAA said it has agreements in principle with some ISPs, but declined
to say which ones. But ISPs, which are increasingly cutting content deals
of their own with entertainment companies, may have more incentive to work
with the music labels now than in previous years.
The new approach dispenses with one of the most contentious parts of the
lawsuit strategy, which involved filing lawsuits requiring ISPs to disclose
the identities of file sharers. Under the new strategy, the RIAA would
forward its emails to the ISPs without demanding to know the customers'
Though the industry group is reserving the right to sue people who are
particularly heavy file sharers, or who ignore repeated warnings, it
expects its lawsuits to decline to a trickle. The group stopped filing mass
lawsuits early this fall.
It isn't clear that the new strategy will work or how effective the
collaboration with the ISPs will be. "There isn't any silver-bullet anti-
piracy solution," said Eric Garland, president of BigChampagne LLC, a
piracy consulting company.
Mr. Garland said he likes the idea of a solution that works more with
consumers. In the years since the RIAA began its mass legal action, "It has
become abundantly clear that the carrot is far more important than the
stick." Indeed, many in the music industry felt the lawsuits had outlived
"I'd give them credit for stopping what they've already been doing because
it's been so destructive," said Brian Toder, who represents a Minnesota
mother involved in a high-profile file-sharing case. But his client isn't
off the hook. The RIAA said it plans to continue with outstanding lawsuits.
Over the summer, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo began
brokering an agreement between the recording industry and the ISPs that
would address both sides' piracy concerns. "We wanted to end the
litigation," said Steven Cohen, Mr. Cuomo's chief of staff. "It's not
As the RIAA worked to cut deals with individual ISPs, Mr. Cuomo's office
started working on a broader plan under which major ISPs would agree to
work to prevent illegal file-sharing.
The RIAA believes the new strategy will reach more people, which itself is
a deterrent. "Part of the issue with infringement is for people to be aware
that their actions are not anonymous," said Mitch Bainwol, the group's
Mr. Bainwol said that while he thought the litigation had been effective in
some regards, new methods were now available to the industry. "Over the
course of five years, the marketplace has changed," he said in an
interview. Litigation, he said, was successful in raising the public's
awareness that file-sharing is illegal, but now he wants to try a strategy
he thinks could prove more successful.
The RIAA says piracy would have been even worse without the lawsuits.
Citing data from consulting firm NPD Group Inc., the industry says the
percentage of Internet users who download music over the Internet has
remained fairly constant, hovering around 19% over the past few years.
However, the volume of music files shared over the Internet has grown
Meanwhile, music sales continue to fall. In 2003, the industry sold 656
million albums. In 2007, the number fell to 500 million CDs and digital
albums, plus 844 million paid individual song downloads -- hardly enough to
make up the decline in album sales.
—Amol Sharma contributed to this article.
Write to Sarah McBride at [log in to unmask] and Ethan Smith at
[log in to unmask]