Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Lessig, RIAA and Inducement

And speaking of evil and music, I was listening (on my new MP3 player!) to Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture audiobook. He mentioned the initial suits filed by RIAA against 4 students at 3 different universities a few years ago. I remembered the suits, but had understood that they were filed against students who had organized huge music-sharing servers. At the time, I was unsympathetic toward the students; if you're gonna give away huge amounts of other people's stuff, expect them to get upset.

Except that wasn't the case. One student had only enhanced an exsiting school-network-internal search engine (a la Google) that indexed the public shares on other students' Windows boxes. 3/4ths of the files found were not music. He simply made the search results available within the school's network, and was subsequently sued over it. And, according to Lessig, was forced to settle for his entire savings of $12,000.

Okay, I take back anything nice I ever said about RIAA. (I'm not sure if I ever did, but that's beside the point.) This is just heinous. RIAA lawyers started out seeking millions, and wanted to bar the student from having anything to do with technology in the future. For writing a search engine that was data agnostic. And reportedly the other three students' stories were materially similar.

All four students apparently settled out of court, and in so doing (not that I blame them) allowed the RIAA to use intimidating, mafia-style techniques to stifle technology that could be and was used for generic and largely non-infringing purposes. Imagine RIAA suing and closing down Google because you can find infringing websites via their services. Ludicrous. And a CNet news story at the time stated that "The RIAA had not contacted any of the students before filing the suits". Not even an attempt to work with the people they saw as infringers first.

This is all insanity in action. RIAA needs to be spanked and put back in their place. With these actions, they are doing real damage to real people doing quite legal and innocent things.

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