LOL"On Tuesday, the RIAA began sending thousands of instant messages to file traders using IM services on Kazaa and Grokster, warning them that trading copyrighted songs is illegal.
Curiously, contacting swappers in this manner was suggested by their opponents in the Verizon lawsuit. In the closely-watched case, the RIAA subpoenaed Verizon to turn over the names of subscribers who were suspected of pirating music online.
"We made an argument to the judge that (the RIAA) always has the option to contact the user directly rather than go through the ISP," said Verizon's associate general counsel, Sarah Deutsch. "The means to do that would be the chat feature."
One intellectual property attorney involved in the case was rather amused by the news.
"This was something that came up in the Verizon case after the recording industry claimed that they had no way of contacting end users," said Fred von Lohmann, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is working on the case on behalf of consumer and privacy groups in support of Verizon.
"That's just too funny," von Lohmann said. "It's fascinating that they are now taking our advice."
A representative for the RIAA said that the group "knew of this capability separately from whatever Verizon suggested" and said that it did not get the idea to contact file swappers from Verizon.
The RIAA representative said they wanted the opportunity to warn users of peer-to-peer services, but "Verizon would have us sue and only sue."
The instant message campaign is part of a new anti-piracy "education initiative" launched by the RIAA, the Christian Music Trade Association and the Gospel Music Association.
"It's utilizing a combination of tools to educate those who illegally upload or download music," said the RIAA representative. "Instant message is one, as is possibly a letter from the RIAA after learning the identity of an illegal downloader through the information-subpoena process."
The barrage of messages began Tuesday morning. The group is using a third-party vendor to send the automated notes and they plan to send a million by the end of this week.
The instant message reads, in part:
"It appears that you are offering copyrighted music to others from your computer. Distributing or downloading copyrighted music on the Internet without permission from the copyright owner is ILLEGAL…. When you break the law, you risk legal penalties. There is a simple way to avoid that risk: DON'T STEAL MUSIC, either by offering it to others to copy or downloading it on a 'file-sharing' system like this.
"When you offer music on these systems, you are not anonymous, and you can easily be identified. You also may have unlocked and exposed your computer and your private files to anyone on the Internet. Don't take these chances. Disable the share feature or uninstall your 'file-sharing' software."
While admitting she had no idea whether the RIAA got the idea from Verizon, Deutsch wondered why the organization didn't contact users through IM earlier and called the move "interesting timing on the heels of the Morpheus decision."
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson delivered a major victory for peer-to-peer networks when he ruled that Grokster and Morpheus file-sharing services are not liable for copyright infringement by users of their software.
"I think that the chat feature undermines many of the arguments (the RIAA) has made in the lawsuit -- that the only way to contact the user directly is through the ISP," Deutsch said.
Deutsch added that the music industry group's plan to send out a million of these automated instant messages was troubling because it "proves the RIAA's intentions to serve millions of subpoenas to service providers."