Saturday, June 20, 2009

The RIAA Has Gone Too Far

You know when a story feels like it should have been told five years ago? This is one of them.

In the first few years of this decade, many people downloaded music files illegally. Then it was made clear that if people continued, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) would crack down and sue individuals. This story should have been over in 2003.

The RIAA just won a judgment of $1.92 million against Jammie Thomas-Rasset. She downloaded at least 24 songs, which would be $80,000 per illegal download.

The problem is not that the RIAA had the right to sue her. The problem is not that Mrs. Thomas-Rasset was wrong. The essential problem is that the issue feels like the RIAA is trying to make up for wrongs that have been long over with. It feels like they chased this woman to the ends of the earth.

Had this ruling occurred in 2004, it would make sense. The fear of lawsuits caused people to stop downloading music on Kazaa. They did not want to risk being sued. This fear changed the habits of music listeners. Now iTunes is the number one seller of music in the world. People are willing to pay for music legally and are doing so. This problem has been solved. The public has responded to fear by choosing the legal option of buying music.

If the RIAA wanted to make a point, that point was made. But the fact that the public has already changed its habits means that at this point, the lawsuit feels overbearing and tedious.

To the defense of the RIAA, it was reported that Mrs. Thomas-Rasset could have settled with the RIAA for $3000-$5000 but she refused. Why would she refuse this amount? She was obviously guilty, as was most of America. To not settle for a small amount and risk a trial, she risked a higher judgment against her.

What I do not know is when she had the option of settling. This could have been in 2003 or 2004, which would have made the settlement made sense considering the time of the offense. It may have been Mrs. Thomas-Rasset who dragged this on, and the RIAA decided not to reward her lack of cooperation.

I truly believe that I have to side with Mrs. Thomas-Rasset because this is a dead issue in 2009. It’s not a question to me of her being innocent or guilty. It is a question of the RIAA being willing to move on and not make themselves the villain of the music world.

If they wanted to sue someone for stealing music, they should have focused on a wealthy celebrity or someone who was at least wealthy in general. Had a famous millionaire actor been caught downloading music illegally, the public would feel less sorry for him. To go after this woman with a judgment this large just seems like a horrible public relations long after the problem of illegal downloading of music had been solved.

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