RIAA Drops The Lawyers

The Wall Street Journal reports that the RIAA is going to stop starting (but not finishing) its lawsuits.

Instead, it seems to be moving towards a policy of having ISPs punish miscreants after warnings by slowing down, then stopping, their service.  (Before the wannabe legal beagles get started, yes, this is doable, they’d make this a violation of the TOS.)

From the language in the article (lots of hemhawing in it), this looks at best like a work-in-progress, and it’s clear that a big factor in whether it ends up being a done deal is how much governmental types can prod all (not just those who need an excuse to get rid of their bandwidth pigs) ISPs into doing this, and how much they’ll do.  

What is clear is that the task of stopping media theft has become the equivalent of stuffing everything back into Pandora’s Box.  A generation has grown up with the belief that it’s perfectly OK to steal music, movies etc. . . .  They also believe no one can stop them from doing so, and so far, they’ve been right.  True, a relative handful have been picked off by the RIAA lawsuits, and far fewer have gotten busted for it, but the odds on getting nailed by anyone are far longer than getting busted for drugs or even winning a prize in the lottery.  

I remember having a conversation with a loved one a few years back over his children grabbing music that went something like this:

Me: The RIAA is suing people for this and collecting thousands of dollars per case.

Relative: Stopping them would be a big hassle.  What are the odds on them going caught?

Me: About 4,000:1 against.

Relative: I’ll take my chances. 

And that’s the problem.  When the odds on getting caught are of the same order of magnitude as getting killed in a car accident, there is no serious deterrent, no matter what the punishment is.  If the RIAA had been given a license to kill, and did that to the same number of people it has sued, I really doubt even that would have stopped or even put much of an additional dent in the problem.  

It has long been known that the biggest deterrent to crime is not the severity of punishment, but the perceived likelihood of being caught.  To put it mildly, the actual likelihood of being caught and suffering any real consequences doing this is very, very low, and unless you have a job that you’d lose if caught and you have more than your share of paranoia, the perceived risk is even less.  This situation will not change if the odds on the tote board go down to 400 or even 40 to 1.  No, the only way to change this game is to make getting nailed the norm, not the bizarrely unlucky exception, and it has to hurt.  If only some ISPs do this, and it’s fairly easy to find another one that doesn’t, this won’t work.  If there’s no record ISPs can look at to see which new customers have been naughty, and no provision to allow other ISP to refuse customers or mandate a penalty rate to such “bad” customers, like higher car insurance rates for a while, this won’t work enough.  

I’m not even sure that would work, but I’m sure anything less than that won’t, and at least at this point, the new RIAA approach looks to be much less than that.    


About Ed Stroligo 95 Articles
Ed Stroligo was one of the founders of Overclockers.com in 1998. He wrote hundreds of editorials analyzing the tech industry and computer hardware. After 10+ years of contributing, Ed retired from writing in 2009.

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