Author Topic: RIAA Lawsuit lands Boston University grad school student in $675,000 extra debt  (Read 784 times)

FaustWolf

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*All monetary values expressed in this post are in US Dollars.


http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_tec_music_downloading

What's everyone's opinion on this case, the RIAA's actions, and the severity of the outcome? I'm interested in seeing what others have to say so I can further my own psychological development with respect to issues of copyright, artist interest, and justice.

I've done a lot of soul searching, theorizing, pondering and investigating regarding copyright matters recently (as I'm sure the whole Chrono fan community has to a greater or lesser extent, for obvious reasons). Clearly all intellectual property holders incur real harm when someone distributes songs currently on the market for free without paying the IP holders a royalty for each song consumed -- I imagine legal free audio-listening sites like Rhapsody.com and various Internet radio sites operate by paying the IP holders some average amount, in contrast to what the student on trial in this case did (straight-up free P2P sharing).

Before examining situational nuances that could be brought into the picture in the context of this case, I'd like to observe that the economic rationale on which cases like this are predicated may be significantly flawed. I imagine the RIAA, by singling out this one offender and punishing him to a gigantic degree, is attempting to deter his fellows from engaging in P2P file sharing of copyrighted works (I'm sure host file distribution like Rapidshare and Sendspace are only a few months or years away from the grasp of lawyers, so the method of sharing might not make a difference in the long run). However, Tenenbaum is still one of two high profile cases this year I can recall in a sea of what, 10 million? 50 million? One billion offenders?

The typical rational economic model of risk going around in Economics textbooks these days posits that your typical dude or dudette will essentially multiply the cost of an activity by the probability of occurrence, and then compare the resulting "expected cost" of the action to alternatives. If the $675,000 judgment against Tenenbaum fully holds, and he was one of 10 million peers -- maybe a conservative estimate -- the expected cost to any one peer is ($675k) * (1/10,000,000) or roughly 6.8 cents per infringement. The problem here is that a typical song will cost between 99 cents and $2.00 in most cases. Clearly, if you buy into the economic models the Chicago School and others are engraining into Econ undergrads' heads nowadays, the appropriate option for offenders is to *gasp* continue their P2P activities full scale! To the RIAA's credit, the expected cost of each infringement rises significantly if you factor in the $1.92 million judgment against the other lady that happened recently, and any others punished notably within the past few years. Whether it rises to the market value of the average song may still be debatable, however.

Not that I really buy into what Econ textbooks say on numerous issues, including this one. I'd put far more weight on the sheer probability of being caught than a formula we all supposedly implicitly carry out before embarking on some activity. IMHO the RIAA might be far better served by asking for a judgment of approximately the fair market value of the songs while pushing the probability of detection closer to 100%, which should be fairly doable with the current infrastructure. However, I'm not really familiar enough with traditional pirating techniques to know if some roadblock exists that prevents the RIAA from just having unpaid Interns run Internet searches and catching pirates by the hundreds in a given afternoon, so I could be wrong. Likewise, there may be something in national copyright law that sets a minimum punishment per infringement, essentially robbing the RIAA the opportunity to pursue more efficient and reasonable actions.


A closely related issue is preventing P2P sharing for copyright's sake, and not for profit's sake. What I mean by this is, say a piece of music still falls under copyright but the piece of music is no longer being sold except as a rarity in second-hand markets. The profit interest to the artist and copyright holder is essentially nonexistent (only the second-hand holder of the copy profits, an issue which itself has been subject to lawsuit from time to time!).

The First Sale Doctrine still standing, however (and hopefully forever), the letter of the law and the artist's profit interest do not necessarily coincide. I think an argument can be made for file sharing on the basis of art preservation in cases when First Sale becomes impossible -- original work "out of print," deleted from First Sellers' databases to make space on servers, what have you. This is the rationale on which I have no problem whatsoever seeking out a classic NES or SNES videogame and storing it on my hard drive; I'm not entirely trusting of game companies to preserve the artifacts of great gaming as if they were scrupulous museums. Admittedly, the practice of re-releasing old games muddies the art preservation rationale by making First Sale possible again -- in the cases of certain lucky titles.


Long post is Long, so I think I'll cut it short here. I'd eventually like to get to Fair Use (which, unlike the art preservation rationale, is codified in most developed countries' copyright law if I'm not mistaken -- which I could very well be) with respect to things like usage of copyrighted works in mixed content Youtube videos, and finally culminating in the situation Crimson Echoes and other fan works have become embroiled in from time to time.
« Last Edit: August 01, 2009, 02:28:40 am by FaustWolf »

IAmSerge

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If you compare the RIAA's methods of getting 'paid back' for their 'losses' vs the methods of SE...

...I would be sending the Square Enix staff Christmas cards, Valentines, And personalized Birthday cards every year.

In my opinion, the 'damages' done by this single person are miniscule to the fine that the Jury and the RIAA wants to put on him.

In my opinion, the RIAA is a group of business assholes, and rather than the $675k in supposed 'damages' that he caused, his fine should be in the $100s or $1ks, not $100ks.

He did not have 'willful' intent to damage the RIAA.  After a case like this, I'm sure anyone would want to bring them down, but that would just mean they brought it upon themselves.

...When someone shares music with their friends, its called 'damages'.

But when someone shares a product or other tangible items with others, its called 'promoting'.

Personally, I really don't see the difference...  From a point of view, it could be argued that he was promoting the songs and music that he so enjoyed, in such a way that it would influence others to get more of that music.  More that his 30 songs did not provide.  So, if I were one of those people, and I enjoyed the music, I would go out and buy it.  If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't have bought it anyways.  So, from a point of view, he was doing the music industry a favor.  Albeit a small one, but none the less.

ZeaLitY

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http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/4062/125/

Real piracy, like the market of Hong Kong or bootlegging, can definitely harm. But it's hard to attribute any kind of economic damage to digital piracy, because it hardly ever represents a lost economic sale, and neither represents physical theft or counterfeiting.

ZaichikArky

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Terrible that these kind of lawsuits end up being valid. Absolutely terrible. There's really not a damn thing you can do to stop them either... Makes me all freaked out too >_>. I haven't downloaded pirated music in many years because of all these lawsuits.

IAmSerge

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Terrible that these kind of lawsuits end up being valid. Absolutely terrible. There's really not a damn thing you can do to stop them either... Makes me all freaked out too >_>. I haven't downloaded pirated music in many years because of all these lawsuits.

Thats EXACTLY what THEY want you to do!....


...never said you were wrong for stopping though!  =D

I would just like to get back at the RIAA in a way other than "pirating music", because, we all know that they LIKE pirates, because pirates make them money.  Because of lawsuits, that is.

ZeaLitY

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Not really. There are massive legal fees, and the people who have to pay the massive damages usually have absolutely no way of providing that kind of money (like this person; how will they cough up $675,000?). The RIAA is shooting for scare tactics, and lawyers are the only ones with a real pay day here.

IAmSerge

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Not really. There are massive legal fees, and the people who have to pay the massive damages usually have absolutely no way of providing that kind of money (like this person; how will they cough up $675,000?). The RIAA is shooting for scare tactics, and lawyers are the only ones with a real pay day here.

Taking from the point of view that that is the case, they're still being assholes, and the tactics aren't working well when considering the amount of pirating that exists atm.

I say they should go guns blazing against all major pirating cases (by this I mean pirating websites and other major stuff like such) rather than having missiles aimed at one single college goer.  I understand that alot of the pirating places out there are run in countries like China and Russia and the like, where copyright laws don't seem to affect them... but I think that should change.  I would be behind the RIAA all the way if it wasn't for cases like this one...
... and the MAJOR fines you can get from a SINGLE song.  I don't mind there existing a fine, but, like, a $700 fine for a single song?  no... no thank you.  (Im not sure what the fine is for just downloading one illegally, but I THINK it was somewhere like $700...)

Truthordeal

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Although I can see things from the RIAA's point of view, I'm going to have to apply a derivative of Godwin's Law and compare them to Mussoulini's Brown Shirts. I don't mean the control of dissent angle, moreover the scare tactics/strong arming aspect.

A more apt comparison would be to Stalin's show trials I guess, because they're only to instill fear in the public. "This 40 year old woman pirated one song and has to pay $150,000. This is what will happen to you naughty kids if you continue to use limewire." All the while, the music industry has been making profits due to the advent of things like Google and Youtube.

It's very rare that I'll side against a corporation, but the RIAA takes things way too far for even me.

mav

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Not really. There are massive legal fees, and the people who have to pay the massive damages usually have absolutely no way of providing that kind of money (like this person; how will they cough up $675,000?).
This is my chief concern. I feel for the poor fella (was that a pun?), cause he only downloaded 30 songs. 30! I know people who download that many per day. Though, did they go after him for the downloading or for the distribution? See, many, many, many people download music, but how many distribute them as well? Regardless, I really hate what RIAA did here. They used one guy as an example, and they punished him pretty severely. See, they weren't dickish enough to for the full $4.5 million, but they weren't nice enough to go for a little over $29.50 (going 99 per song) or even $22,500 (going $750 per song): they chose to go $22,500 PER SONG!

I'm curious though, they always say that artists and music companies are losing money due to downloading and distributing, but how much are they really losing? I'm no economist, but I can't understand why a person needs to be charged at least $750 for a song that costs up to $2.00...

alfadorredux

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I'm curious though, they always say that artists and music companies are losing money due to downloading and distributing, but how much are they really losing? I'm no economist, but I can't understand why a person needs to be charged at least $750 for a song that costs up to $2.00...

If I recall correctly, the answer is that what few independant studies have been done indicate that the majority of artists lose no money at all from downloading, and some of the lesser-known ones even gain money due to the publicity.  The RIAA has been known for years to be outright lying about this.

FaustWolf

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I think I read that Tenenbaum's going to declare bankruptcy and that will knock his total payments down to some...maybe...more managable level.

As for the 30 songs, I'm not sure why they selected those 30 out of the approximately 800 their MediaSentry recorded him sharing. Could be because the RIAA didn't actually have copyright on all 800 songs, but I'm not really sure. They were probably just cherrypicking for reasons I'm not understanding.

The Michael Geist article is really interesting. I'm especially interested in the claim that P2P downloads don't result in lost sales (in "many cases.") Looks like the working paper referenced is here.

I think there's an economic rationale for completely free P2P sharing without restrictions on the basis of perfect information -- try before you buy, and don't buy the stuff that sucks. However, there's also the moral hazard involved -- don't buy when you can acquire for free -- and it'll be fascinating to see how the research paper addresses that.

mav

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If I recall correctly, the answer is that what few independant studies have been done indicate that the majority of artists lose no money at all from downloading, and some of the lesser-known ones even gain money due to the publicity.  The RIAA has been known for years to be outright lying about this.
But isn't the theory that these artists/companies are losing money solely due to the fact that once a person downloads a song or an album, that person generally won't participate in buying those respective items? Thus, the artists and companies lost on that potential sale. But then that brings into question whether the person would have even bought the album or song in the first place if they couldn't download 'em...

As for the 30 songs, I'm not sure why they selected those 30 out of the approximately 800 their MediaSentry recorded him sharing. Could be because the RIAA didn't actually have copyright on all 800 songs, but I'm not really sure. They were probably just cherrypicking for reasons I'm not understanding.
Ah, so he was recorded as having downloaded 800 songs? I thought he just admitted to having downloaded and shared that many songs, though I suppose he was recorded as having downloaded that many and then he decided to admit it. Still...I despise the fact that there's such a disproportionate amount between what you can be charged with and what the item is worth...

KillaGouge

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I'm fairly certain  that MediaSentry was found to be illegal in at least one state.  How they are allowed to breaks laws and extort money from people is beyond me.  They do stuff like and it pisses people off, more people download, they more they do it.  It is a vicious cycle and it needs to break.  Unforutintaly people will still buy mass produced auto-tuned shit, because they want to feel cool.  Also people, don't be stupid, turn off "Share what I download", and you won't have a problem.  Then again, if everybody does that then who do you download from, oh yea, bittorrent.  Any private tracker and encryption enable client and you are fairly safe, and there aren't a million fake hits on what you want.

Exodus

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MediaSentry's legality was under question last time I checked in on this charade.

ZaichikArky

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Quote
Any private tracker and encryption enable client and you are fairly safe, and there aren't a million fake hits on what you want.

Unfortunately, most trackers are not private, and even if they are, they do not provide with adequate protection. Also, the most well-protected trackers require membership and then a butt-load of seeding before you can even download anything, something that most people are not willing to do. I have been contacted by my ISP for downloading torrents before. This is why I've had to be very careful these days. Some other people I know have downloaded terrabytes of information from the same ISP and never been contacted before. I don't know, you download anything, and you are playing a risk game. I never download music, I just listen to it streaming, which is pretty safe, and I don't download videos of brand new tv shows unless I am confident that it is a relatively "safe" venue- IE, a lot of ppl I know upload on megavideo and rename the file as .ppt files just for some extra caution...