Will The RIAA's Nastiness
Be Its Legal Undoing?

TO THE CASUAL observer, the most striking thing about the recent MP3 music file sharing imbroglio has been the mean-spiritedness of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

There was no need for the RIAA to bring six-figure law suits against 12 year kids and retirees. All the RIAA had to due was to inform people of its purported rights, which brings us to the point where I believe the RIAA's nastiness may backfire legally.

At the time of the original lawsuits, an RIAA spokesman said the organization had twice sent anonymous electronic messages to one of the people it subsequently sued, warning them not to "steal" music. This means the RIAA had the means to publish its supposed copyright claim to the file sharing public without suing them.

Notice of copyright must be published to maintain a copyright claim -- that's why all the CDs you buy say Copyright Island Records or some such on the sleeve and the disc and every other distinct, separate part that can carry a copyright notice. Failure to publish claim of copyright means you relinquish your copyright, and once its gone, you can't get it back.

I recently looked through a random selection of several hundred MP3 files of the sort that have been shared on the Internet, and I found that less than one percent carry copyright notice of any sort in their info tags. I also legitimately copied a number of tracks from commercial music CDs, and none of them carried any claim of copyright that I could discern either.

If it wanted, the RIAA could have made every music track released by every one of its member companies carry electronic copyright notices in the tag info where file sharers could see it. It also could have flooded the P2P space with copyright notices (in appropriate tiny legal print) just like the diet and stop pop-up ads notices that are common there. Instead, the RIAA chose not to publish its copyright claim, apparently because it wanted to wait a couple months and really hurt people with its attack lawyers.

Since the RIAA didn't publish its copyright claim in the P2P space when it had the ability to do so, the RIAA should by rights lose copyright on ever single music file on the file sharing networks, which means you and I can go into the business re-packaging (with appropriate royalty payments to the artists, of course) a lot of great music that has until now been withering under the control of the RIAA and its mega-corporation members.

Maybe then the musicians would see that declining CD revenues are not the fault of MP3 file sharing, but rather the astounding ineptitude of an industry that also thinks its a good idea to criminalize its own customers.

-- Bruce Brown

Why MP3 File Sharing Is Good

Special thanks to Tim Johnson, who originated "The Skinny" column in the late, lamented Every Other Weekly the Bellingham Weekly.

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