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An Exercise in Futility
Angie Chamberland • The RIAA is behind the times

Internet users and music listeners have become slightly more reluctant to download tracks since the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began a rampage of lawsuits. The RIAA began its battle against file sharing by shutting down Napster. Much to its dismay, several more organizations like Napster popped up, showing the defiance of a new age of communication technology and a new generation of consumers. The file sharing “culture’s” proven adaptability has progressed even further since then, and the RIAA’s constant pushing may end up causing more long-term problems than anything else.

The RIAA argues that it wants to protect the intellectual property of musicians, allowing them to continue profiting from their music; however, this argument is fast becoming inapplicable. More and more artists are speaking out against the RIAA, exposing the facts that most of their income does not come from CD sales and that most earnings from CD sales do not go to them. These artists promote the spread of music through a variety of methods, especially in the face of a wide variety of globally available music and a possible economic slump. Most supporters of file sharing see it simply as a new era in the industry and its technology; they compare the adoption of the practice of file sharing to the invention and mass use of the VCR or radio.

The RIAA’s initial shut down of the popular file sharing program, Napster, failed miserably. Immediately, more and more programs popped up, newly mutated to adapt to existing conditions. The designers of these programs knew that Napster had made a mistake by operating through a central network. Now most, if not all, file sharing programs use what is known as “peer-to-peer” sharing, making it possible for users to share files directly rather than within an actual network. This makes it nearly impossible for the RIAA to attack these programs and promotes the idea of individual sharing in user-created settings. File sharing has taken on an unstoppable momentum.

The music industry itself has begun to accept this new market and has worked with computer software companies such as Apple to try to harness this new consumer trend. Programs such as iTunes now allow users to buy CDs online for costs much below that of regular CDs. While this will not stop file sharing, it does cater to downloaders as consumers. Online music stores promote exposure to a wide variety of artists that many consumers may never have heard of through television, radio, and record stores. Users of programs such as iTunes can now buy CDs, at a lower cost, from these newfound artists. While many major artists may be losing profit from this system, many smaller artists are gaining more recognition.

The file sharing system is evolving in its own right and forcing the music recording industry to evolve as well. Unfortunately, the RIAA’s “crackdown” on file sharing may be causing negative adaptations as well. In order to catch users, the RIAA looks at what these users have on their computers--made viewable by most peer-to-peer programs. In response to this, more and more users have started using encryption programs to protect their data.

An encryption program alters the algorithm in a file’s coding, creating a unique alteration every time. To view the file, a person must decrypt it with the same kind of program. An on-looking third party (such as the RIAA) will not be able to see what the file is. This does, however, start to cause problems in distinguishing who the third party necessarily is. While the most common peer-to-peer file sharing programs do not use encryption, newer programs are surfacing, mostly in the hands of computer programming connoisseurs and minor hackers. Encryption programs are becoming such that users can run them as background programs, making it easier for them to encrypt all files instead of only a handful of random files. Basically, this means more and more hidden information on the Internet.

The government currently scans internet information with computer programs called “agents”. These agents generally ignore encrypted data, which is essentially invisible to them. When these “agents” want to view encrypted data, it can take from a few weeks to a few months to decrypt it, depending on the level of encryption. Advancements in the science of encryption make it easier for crime networks to operate under the government’s Internet radar.

The majority of file sharers, however, don’t use encryption technology. Their files can be identified by any third party, which usually does not have the right to search through individual computers. Yet.

Recently, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives that would give the right to any copyright holder to seek out users infringing on copyrights. These copyright holders would be entitled to do what they felt fit in order to interrupt the network and files being used, as long as they did not exceed damages of $50 per infringement. If a violator is seen to have forty pirated songs on his computer, copyright holders would be allowed to shut his computer down. This bill would allow any copyright holder, not just those in the music recording industry, to fight offenses at his own discretion.

So while the RIAA is yet refusing to accept and to adapt to an undeniable force in modern music consumerism, the biggest fears of consumers are not the failure of Napster or arbitrary lawsuits. Rather, consumers must fear the long-term effects of the RIAA’s witch-hunt, such as loss of internet security and privacy.

Angie Chamberland is a freshman in Branford College.


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