RIAA defends sue-the-fans nonsense

By | Published on Monday 12 December 2011


The comms chief of the Recording Industry Association Of America has defended the self-harming and frankly comedic sue-the-fans strategy the major labels trade body pursued for much of the last decade in response to the rise of online file-sharing. Yeah, the tone of that sentence sort of indicates poor old Liz Kennedy’s not going to get much support in this article, doesn’t it?

Kennedy recently responded to an article in Nashville newspaper The Tennessean that was critical of the trade body’s large lobbying spend, and its record in combating online piracy, especially its now dropped policy of suing individual file-sharers. She says that the US record industry never expected to stop piracy outright by suing individuals who illegally used file-sharing platforms, but instead aimed to curtail the growth of P2P usage and to educate the kids about the rules of copyright.

Which is possibly true. I mean, only idiots would have expected the expensive litigation approach to stop file-sharing. Then again, there were quite a few idiots running major record companies ten years ago. The same idiots who hung onto digital rights management on legit downloads for five years longer than they should have done, thus holding back the emergence of the mainstream digital music market for half a decade, and ensuring Apple’s total and utter and possibly unbreakable market dominance in the a la carte space.

Anyway, here is Kennedy’s response: “We never expected to ‘end’ piracy. The goal is to bring the problem under sufficient control so that lawful businesses can compete and the industry can earn enough to protect jobs and invest in new bands”.

She continues: “Our legal efforts served as an essential educational tool. Fans know far more now about copyright laws and the legal consequences of stealing music than ever before. Before initiating lawsuits in 2003, only 35% of people knew file-sharing on P2P was illegal; afterward, awareness grew to 70%”.

She adds: “Where there was virtually no legal digital market before the lawsuits, today the market exceeds $3 billion annually, and revenue from online platforms will comprise more than 50 percent of total industry revenues this year. To boot, there are more than 400 licensed digital services worldwide, compared with fewer than 50 in 2003”.

Of course the digital market similarly grew in other territories where sue-the-fans litigation was much less prolific, or in some cases none existent, and such growth was down to the rise of broadband, the growth of a more mainstream online audience (in part aided by the boom in social networking), the eventual licensing of more innovative music services by labels and publishers, and the end of the aforementioned DRM idiocy.

But I’m sure in America it was all down to the RIAA suing tens of thousands of music fans. And the fact those actions cost the major labels vastly more than they ever made back in damages, while damaging the reputation of the whole music industry worldwide, really doesn’t matter.