RIAA Sues 'John Does' For Real Dough
The RIAA blames illegal file sharing for the downturn in music sales. But despite the federal appeals court hiccup in December, the group is adamant about tracking down illegal file sharers until the practice is under control. The RIAA filed four separate lawsuits Wednesday against 532 offenders who were alleged to have distributed 800 songs or more. The individuals' names will remain undisclosed, and Internet providers will not be required to respond to subpoenas requesting their names per the December ruling.
Instead, the trade group will indict the alleged offenders by their numerical Internet addresses and pursue other means of finding out users' identities. According to Doug Wood, executive partner, Hall Dickler LLP, and general counsel for the Association of National Advertisers: "A 'John Doe' lawsuit is far easier to file from a management standpoint when you want to file a mass lawsuit." Wood says that while it may take a long time to identify each of the names on a John Doe lawsuit, all that's really needed to win the case is a fraction of the names on the list.
"I doubt seriously [the RIAA] will have a problem getting a sufficient number of names," Wood adds, noting that there are a variety of ways to get users' names based on their IP addresses, but they involve time and investigative work. However, universities, where the majority of illegal file sharing takes place, might be the best bet.
Universities track the file downloading activities of all their students, and are generally compliant with regard to disclosing user information where alleged copyright infringement is concerned. Over the last few years, several schools have started taking measures to clamp down on the overactive use of illegal file-sharing programs by their students.
The RIAA is bullish that the 4 John Doe lawsuits will pan out in its favor. "Our campaign against illegal file-sharers is not missing a beat," said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, in a Reuters report.
So far, the RIAA has settled 233 of the 382 lawsuits that have been filed since September. Another 100 settlements have been reached "in principle," and the rest of the cases are still in court. The average settlement has been around $3,000.
"All they need is a few names," remarks Wood. "This is not a policing to eradicate the problem because there isn't even enough paper out there to file a lawsuit against all the infringements. They want to establish this is a practice young people don't want to engage in, and drive traffic to legal music downloading sites." The number of legal, for-pay music download venues has grown in recent months to include Apple's iTunes, Napster, Yahoo!'s Launch, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and others. It remains to be seen, however, whether the proliferation of such sites and the RIAA's ongoing efforts will dramatically reduce illegal file sharing.
The next step, Wood says, is to pursue this on a criminal basis. "What would happen if you started sending juveniles to juvenile court?"