[rumori] WSJ: Labels go after individual song-swappers

From: Carrie McLaren (carrieATstayfreemagazine.org)
Date: Thu Jul 04 2002 - 21:27:15 PDT

  Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Music Labels Seek Individuals
Abetting Internet Swapping

Recording Companies Plan to File Suits
Against Largest Suppliers of Free Songs


Major music companies are preparing to mount a broad new attack on
unauthorized online song-swapping. The campaign would include suits
against individuals who are offering the largest troves of songs on
peer-to-peer services.

The big recording companies, working through their trade association,
the Recording Industry Association of America, are moving toward
filing copyright lawsuits that would target the highest volume song
providers within the services, which allow people to grab songs
without paying artists or labels, according to people with knowledge
of the matter. The suits would be part of a broader effort, including
a public campaign that may feature prominent artists urging music
fans to respect copyright rules.

The new legal tack would be a departure from the entertainment
industry's strategy so far. Companies have been reluctant to take
legal action against individual Internet users, in part because they
have feared the possible backlash that could result from big
corporate interests dragging individuals into court.

Instead, the industry has focused on lawsuits against for-profit
piracy outfits and the operators of peer-to-peer services like
Napster, Morpheus and Kazaa. Those attacks have generally been
successful in the courts. But they have failed to stem the growth of
online song bazaars. The Morpheus file-sharing application has been
downloaded more than 95 million times, and Kazaa more than 90 million
times, through Cnet Networks Inc.'s Download.com.

People with knowledge of the matter say that the recording-industry
trade association is still in the early stages of planning its
efforts. The labels are discussing what actions should trigger such
suits, including exactly what a music uploader would have to do to
become a target. The details and scope of the PR push also haven't
been resolved. In general, music artists haven't been out front in
combating digital piracy, and some have even endorsed file-sharing.

Still, these people say, top record-label executives agreed in a
trade association meeting a few weeks ago that they would move toward
preparing suits that would focus on individuals who supply the
biggest amounts of music, as well as so-called "supernodes," or
people who provide the centralized directories that enable online
music-sharing. According to people with knowledge of the matter, two
of the strongest backers of the tough tactics have been the biggest
music companies, the recording units of Vivendi Universal SA and Sony

It isn't clear that all of the five parent companies of the big
record labels are completely behind suing individual users, a move
that could put some of them in an awkward position. Some officials,
particularly from AOL Time Warner Inc. and its Warner Music Group,
have raised concerns about the problems that could be caused by such
suits and the complexity of proceeding with them. The suits could set
the company against many users of its own America Online Internet

Bertelsmann AG, for its part, has tied itself to Napster Inc., the
original online song-swapping service, though Napster is no longer
operating with any unauthorized content. People with knowledge of the
matter say that BMG has supported the trade association's efforts.

Suits against individual Internet users -- particularly if the
defendants aren't seeking to create profitable operations based on
their online music activities -- could cause a backlash from some of
the record industry's own fans and biggest customers. But many music
executives, watching revenue sag as home compact-disc copying has
soared, feel that they have little choice if they are to save their
business. World-wide music sales dropped 5% last year, while global
sales of compact-disc albums declined for the first time since CDs
were launched in 1983. So far this year, U.S. music sales are down
steeply from a sluggish 2001.

Music executives hope the legal attacks will be part of their broader
Internet strategy, which has included rolling out more legal online
services that include their music. The two major record-label-backed
online subscription offerings, MusicNet and pressplay, have yet to
rival the popularity of their free competitors. But they are both
working to add more inviting features and broader music offerings.
The record labels have also increased their licensing to independent
online music services such as Listen.com Inc.

Filing suits against individual users is complicated. Entertainment
companies frequently hire services that specialize in tracking
copyrighted material online. But to get the name of an individual
user, they have to send a subpoena to that person's Internet-service
provider. Even for the ISP, linking the Internet address to a name
can be complex. Moreover, it's hard to verify which person was logged
on to an Internet connection at a given time.

If the target of a suit turned out to be under 18, he or she would
likely be liable. Under certain circumstances, the parents could also
be liable.

Short of suits, entertainment companies are using technological tools
that they hope will make the peer-to-peer services less inviting. For
instance, some have hired companies to distribute "decoy" files
labeled with the names of movies or songs. The idea is to frustrate
illicit downloaders with dummy files that don't work. California
Democratic Congressman Howard Berman has said he plans to introduce a
bill that would help protect copyright holders who use such methods,
which may fall into a gray area of certain current laws.

Write to Anna Wilde Mathews at anna.mathewsATwsj.com and Bruce Orwall
at bruce.orwallATwsj.com

Carrie McLaren
Editor, Stay Free
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