No Easy Way to Resolve P2P Conflict
WASHINGTON (Billboard) - The Recording Industry Assn. of America appears to have weathered what first promised to be a congressional hurricane but has turned out to be an autumn sprinkle.
Observers described the Sept. 30 hearing to probe the subpoena process the RIAA uses to go after alleged copyright infringers as muted.
Despite initial rumblings, it appears that Congress may not revisit the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), observers say.
Some Capitol Hill veterans say that Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who called the hearing, is now part of a growing group of lawmakers that sees no easy way to solve the conflict between the record industry and peer-to-peer services.
"After studying the issue, I think Coleman now recognizes that the Kazaas are inherently conflicted," says lobbyist Manus Cooney, formerly chief of staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"So there's no real incentive for the recording industry to license them. At the same time, the Kazaas have no real incentive to develop the technology solution to identify illegal downloaders because they'd be liable."
Cooney and other Hill vets say that Mitch Bainwol, the RIAA's new chairman/CEO, came across as informed and positive at the hearing when he announced that going forward, the RIAA will give prior notice to alleged egregious P2P infringers.
By law, neither Internet service providers nor copyright holders are required to give notice to a user whose personal information has been turned over to a copyright holder.
The RIAA notification will alleviate some of the surprise or confusion the lawsuits have generated, allowing infringers to contact the RIAA to settle out of court and enabling those who feel they are innocent of wrongdoing to make their case.
"We are trying to be reasonable and fair and allow these cases the opportunity to be resolved without litigation," Bainwol told the panel.
He also said that lawsuits could be avoided if P2P network operators instituted meaningful disclosure notices stating that unauthorized uploading and downloading is illegal, used available technology to filter and block such activity and changed default settings for users so that they do not unknowingly upload material.
Hill veterans say that lawmakers have too much on their plate to reconstruct the DMCA.
There's another emerging factor in the lawmakers' response to the issue: They view the activities and business practices of Kazaa, the most popular program used to trade songs on the Internet, with growing suspicion.
The hardball questions at the Coleman hearing were aimed at Alan Morris, executive president of Sharman Networks, the parent company of Kazaa.
Ranking member Sen. Carl M. Levin, D-Mich., all but called the company a suspicious, shady operation. He pumped Morris to reveal the names of the company's owners and asked for explanations as to why the company is partly incorporated on the tiny South Pacific island chain of Vanuatu.
The island, Levin said, "advertises itself as a tax haven and has been on a State Department nation list of money-launderers."
After the hearing, Levin said: "I think they know very well that most of their downloads are violations of copyright."
Morris received similar treatment at an earlier Senate hearing on the issue before the Judiciary Committee Sept. 8.
Nielsen/NetRatings reports that home file sharing through Kazaa has dropped since June, when the RIAA announced its plans to sue infringers.
The decline continued through last month, when the suits were filed, down from 6.7 million per week to 3.9 million. Morris attributed the drop to a common "seasonal downturn."
But there is conflicting information that shows the RIAA still has a long way to go with its antipiracy education efforts. A Gallup poll released the same day as the hearing indicates that 83% of teenagers feel it is morally acceptable to download music from the Internet for free.