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The Changing Face Of P2P Music Downloading


Illegal music downloads have supposedly cost segments of the music industry millions of dollars every year. One of the weapons developed to combat this trend was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Adopted in 1998, the DMCA has been used to pursue big-name corporations and ordinary citizens alike, with lawsuits that can result in eye-popping fines.  For instance, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Bertelsmann AG, the largest media company in Europe, as an enabler of copyright violations and in 2007, the media giant agreed to a $110 million settlement to Warner Music Group.

Bertelsmann had revived Napster, one of the most blatant peer-to-peer sharing sites, with an $85 million loan. Napster had filed bankruptcy in 2002 as a result of numerous big-dollar lawsuits. The loan from Bertelsmann put Napster back in business.

In recent years, the major focus of the RIAA and the DMCA have been more on stopping flagrant traffickers of pirated music – such as those who run certain tracker sites – rather than private individuals. But that doesn’t mean record labels, artists, and music publishers and songwriters, or criminal prosecutors, will not sue individuals. 

Digital Millennium Copyright Act 

The DCMA was designed in part to strike a balance between the rights of copyright holders, and the need to shield technology innovators and internet service providers from liability arising out of the acts of cosnumers. It was enacted by the United States Congress in response to treaties signed earlier at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Under US Copyright law anyone found guilty of illegal music downloading can be subject to a file of up to $150,000 for each incident of copyright infringement as defined by law. 

The 2004 RIAA Campaign 

In 2004, the RIAA targeted 30,000 individuals which the organization claimed had been guilty of large-scale illegal music downloads. Many of these private citizens settled their cases out of court rather than attempt to take on a major corporation. However, in 2009 federal jury handed down a judgment of $1.92 million dollars against a single defendant, Jammie Thomas-Rasset. According to the RIAA, Thomas-Rasset was guilty of illegally downloading 24 songs. As might be expected, the judgment was widely criticized as excessive. There have even been calls to curtail the law. 

Canada Versus the United States 

The laws against illegal downloads vary in different countries. For instance, in the United States, it is illegal to upload and download music files outside of sanctioned services such as iTunes or Amazon, unless the music is in the public domain, or the free sharing is authorized or licensed by the copyright holders. On the other hand, uploading pirated music is illegal in Canada as it is in the United States, but individual users are currently allowed to download songs from non-sanctioned sources for their own personal use with no legal repercussions.  

Pulling Back on Copyright Lawsuits 

After the broad criticism of the Thomas-Rasset judgment, the RIAA pulled back on its efforts to pursue individuals, some of which turned out to be young children. Instead, the RIAA declared its mission of raising public awareness of the issues of illegal music file sharing. Since the Thomas-Rasset judgment, the RIAA – while not letting individual music download violators completely off the hook – has applied its pursuit of legal action under the DMCA to players more on the scale of certain tracker sites than single mothers like Thomas-Rasset.

As a result, P2P users are a lot more aware of the issues and are less likely to download music illegally. P2P client providers such as Vuze are also at the forefront of making their users aware of best file sharing practices and of where to source creative commons music.

Lisa Aragon is a self-confessed tech nerd. When she has the time, she enjoys writing about it on various blog sites.