But here's the bad news. The RIAA is forging deals with Internet service providers to target alleged file-sharers without going to court.
The RIAA has already come to agreements in principle with some large ISPs for a program to sanction alleged file-sharers. Complete details aren't known, but reports say that the sanctions would begin with warnings and culminate with disconnections.
In other words, the ISPs will become the RIAA's private copyright police. That idea should horrify anyone who cares about preserving people's ability to communicate.
Consider, if ISPs and the RIAA do implement their own extra-judicial plan, who will decide when copyright infringement has occurred? The one thing we've learned from the last five years of litigation is that the RIAA, with its penchant for suing dead people and other now-exonerated citizens, frequently gets it wrong.
But at least the legal system has built-in safeguards. When the RIAA goes to court, it can't learn individual users' identities unless it presents a judge with enough evidence for a subpoena. And it can't prevail at trial unless it convinces a judge and/or jury that the user did actually infringe on copyright.
If ISPs simply cut users off, the burden to go to court to attempt to reverse that decision will be on individual users -- many of whom can't even afford to hire attorneys to defend themselves from the RIAA's lawsuits.
From the beginning, the decision to file copyright lawsuits against individual Web users was controversial. Now, more than five years after the campaign began, the strategy has proven disastrous on many levels.
It has cost the RIAA millions of dollars in legal fees, not to mention the kind of badwill you can't put a price tag on. Judges have condemned the imbalanced prosecutions and the RIAA's ability to extract ruinous damages. Meanwhile, the one case to go to a jury resulted in a mistrial.
The shift away from litigation is long overdue. But a decision to enlist ISPs as private enforcers is cause for serious concern.