CNET reports that the Washington Post may have been stretching the point a bit when it characterized the RIAA as attempting to criminalize the simple act of copying music to a PC.
Apparently, the RIAA doesn’t take issue with the defendant for copying music onto his computer, but for copying music into a shared folder on his computer — that folder being shared over a peer-to-peer network. Marc Fisher, the author of the Post article stands by his characterization of the suit, quoting Jennifer Pariser (Sony BMG’s chief of litigation) as testifying that “when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.”
I don’t think this changes my interpretation of the RIAA’s desire to protect the revenue they get from online distribution. Over time, the RIAA members will see revenues from CD sales decline and revenues from online downloads increase. Piracy and online music sharing, regardless of the source of the bits, will always be the RIAA’s enemy number one.
However, I do think it will become increasingly difficult for the RIAA to use the location of files on a customer’s computer as a measure of malfeasance. The problem, for the RIAA, is the peer network itself. My guess is that eventually we’ll see the RIAA press for legislation curtailing peer-to-peer distributed networks over the internet, probably in conjunction with legislation allowing network carriers to prioritize network traffic (and block peer-to-peer network traffic). That means that the RIAA will be at odds with “net neutrality” and will find itself aligned with major carriers (telcos and cable companies).
As I’ve said before, the future will be decided by Congress — and it will be decided in ways favorable to the long-term vested interests: telcos and the RIAA. Again, I want to make clear that this is not a partisan point. Neither party will be any better in this regard. The fact that regulations serve to further the interests of large corporations is a fact of regulation, not party politics. It’s a phenomenon called “regulatory capture” and it’s an integral part of public choice economics.