By now, most of us have opened our last belated Christmas presents, hauled the tree out of the living room and declared an official end to the holiday season. But there’s one more gift left for college students returning to school in a few weeks—from none other than the Mister Potter-worthy executives of the Recording Industry Association of America.
After six years spent trawling a net of lawsuits that hauled in a dead guy, a grandmother, a family without a computer, and a dead grandmother without a computer, along with about 35,000 others encouraged to settle by paying a few thousand dollars each to make the nice men and their lawyers go away, the RIAA is giving up the game. On December 19, the industry announced a new strategy: working with Internet service providers to discourage file sharing rather than suing their own customers. Clausewitz would be proud.
According to Ars and the Chronicle, the new policy means that the RIAA’s high-profile campaign against music sharing on college campuses is over, too. The record-industry trade group “will continue to send notices of copyright infringement to colleges when it detects such violations, but because it is ending the lawsuit program, it will not send any new ‘pre-litigation letters’ to colleges.” Unfortunately for the two UA students sued last year, current proceedings won’t be dropped.
This is a surprising and welcome development, but exactly what it means for UA and other universities is still unclear. Most universities are no more than a couple hops from the big backbone networks that carry most commercial Internet traffic. In effect, they act as service providers themselves—especially large research universities, which connect thousands of labs, offices, classrooms, and dorms to the Web. According to this fun map and traceroute, UA connects through both Qwest and Time Warner. So now that the RIAA is negotiating with providers, at which juncture in the Tubes will they try to quash students sharing songs? Under the old system, the Dean of Students’ Office refused to pass on pre-litigation letters to students in order to avoid liability for playing a part in the RIAA’s shakedown scheme. Under the new policy, it seems that the letters may keep coming, but from further up the network and without legal threats attached.
Alternatively, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the RIAA focus on other methods of fighting campus downloading. College students have always been central to their campaign against filesharing, and even after this big change in strategy it seems odd that the most reviled company in America would simply give up the fight. Instead, I’d be wary of alternative tactics—like the provision record-industry lobbyists slipped into last year’s higher ed appropriations bill requiring colleges to develop plans for network filtering.
Even so, it’s nice to see the holidays bring out a little bit of benevolence in everyone.