Don Marti

Wed 13 May 2009 11:01:06 AM PDT

Sue the Users!

John Sullivan from the Free Software Foundation speaks out about RIAA Lawsuits.

"A vocal minority in the entertainment industry uses these lawsuits as warrants to justify DRM technology and other measures to monitor and control the flow of information over the internet."

That's backwards. A successful backlash against end-user lawsuits would actually be a major setback in the movement toward a music market that's a mix of Free Culture works and infrequently-pirated proprietary works.

The RIAA deliberately does a bad job with suing users, so that they'll be able to justify lobbying for a DRM mandate in the future. Yes, they sue users so they can say they tried, but they do it as failfully as possible—hiring unlicensed "investigators" to collect bad data, filing complaints against obvious non-users of P2P systems, and starving their infringer-suing efforts of budget, to make sure that they don't hire anyone who's too good at it. The lamest "d00d teach me how to hack" p2p project throws more technical skill at its problem than the RIAA ever has.

(All the mental muscle in copyright expansionism is in DRM. The actual lawsuits are the third-string players, sent in to generate bad publicity and whatever the opposite of a deterrent effect is.)

After enough bad publicity about suing users, and enough stats about continued online infringement, companies will be able to say, "See, we tried to enforce existing copyright law, but it just didn't work. The Internet was too big and scary for us. Can we have a DRM Mandate now?" (Solveig Singleton at the Washington, D.C. mouthpiece for high-tech rent-seekers, the "Progress and Freedom Foundation," wrote a blog post that explains this line of argument very well, but I can't find it now.)

The music market needs more and better infringer crawling, and better lawsuits for more money. They'd work if the RIAA made them work. Instead of collecting a little data and firing letters into the void begging for four-figure settlements, correlate p2p data with available social network and online marketing data. Build a bulletproof case against a user with a high net worth, settle, and include an NDA in the settlement. Yes, to really spread the news, keep the user from talking. Joe Fratboy sold his Porsche and doesn't trade MP3s any more. But he won't say why. His friends' imagination will fill in the rest.

Free Software has a hard time catching on in Karachi, Pakistan, where you can just go down to Empress Market and get the latest version of the proprietary OS you already know, thrown in with any hardware you buy. But in the USA, the Business Software Alliance makes the market work differently. They don't waste (much) time with DRM. The BSA brings well-documented, multi-million dollar cases against PC builders and large-scale users, and keeps "software piracy" low. So, hey—the USA has both a thriving proprietary software industry and a thriving free software scene. The BSA companies didn't whine about piracy to get a mandate for free-software-proof hardware. The sooner the RIAA takes a lesson from the BSA, the better.

P.S. I'm still waiting to hear about my Pirate Czar job application. Mr. President, I can help with this.