Piracy 101: A Lesson in Suboptimal Lawsuits

The Recording Industry of America (RIAA) may feel a bit cocky after its recent "victory" in a high-profile file-sharing case, but not everyone's willing to cave to its pressures. The University of Oregon and Oregon's state attorney general are pushing back on the RIAA's attempt to pursue 17 University of Oregon students for file-sharing.

According to PC-enthusiast website Ars Technica, the university's stance is a response to the onerous nature of the demands. Although the university can track the activity to IP addresses and usernames, it's difficult to ascertain exactly who committed the acts. For example, dorm rooms are often shared by several students, who often have numerous guests. And wireless networks are even more iffy.  

Should universities have to undertake in-depth, even forensic, investigations to get a positive ID on P2P perps? The University of Oregon argues that the RIAA is putting "undue burden" on it. Meanwhile, it seems that the RIAA has been bypassing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) -- which shields ISPs from liability for what their users do on their networks -- in favor of a 1984 law that applies to cable providers.

Now, wait -- wasn't the Internet not even mainstream until Netscape and AOL rose up in the mid-'90s? Maybe the RIAA should have done its homework. Ars Technica reported that this approach, using the cable law, led to a dead end at the College of William & Mary after a judge said that colleges were not cable operators. (Not to mention that the 1984 cable law gives government entities -- not the RIAA -- the right to obtain personal information.)

How long can the RIAA -- which consists of recording-industry heavyweights such as Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) and Bertelsmann's Sony BMG, Warner Music Group (NYSE: WMG  ) , EMI (OTC BB: EMIPY.PK), and Vivendi's (OTC BB: VIVEF.PK) Universal Music -- keep this up? One industry lawyer recently admitted that the industry is losing millions on anti-piracy efforts as it is. I'd guess the industry would love to get colleges and universities to help.

Last winter, I found it ironic that the RIAA would go after students in the first place -- these are the budding consumers who love music the most, and who represent the future of commerce. After all, according to legend, game-changer Napster (Nasdaq: NAPS  ) was born in a college dorm room. Meanwhile, what of this attempt to bully higher education into being some sort of policing agency for the industry? As has long been the case, the RIAA continues to try forcing old-school ways on consumers while avoiding anything close to innovation. And that's not an industry I'd put my hard-earned investing dollars into.

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