I JOIN ORLA BARRY around noon on Monday 10 March 2008 to discuss issues around digital downloads of music and some subtle issues surrounding the shift of listening patterns today. It's a topic driven by the countersuit of Tanya Andersen, the 41-year-old single mother who has filed a countersuit against the RIAA. While the lawsuit has an interesting dimension, the most important consideration in my mind relates to the state of play in the way many of us get, store, listen and sometimes share our music. As a third level lecturer in Mass Communications and Culture, the Newstalk segment provides my students with an easy answer to a final examination question. It just happens to be a telephone conversation that directly overlaps a class session too. How convenient for students who may just tune in instead of coming into the classroom. They can also follow the stream of conversation in Jaiku's college channel. If my technology holds up, I will also listen to Twitter for people who want to inject a comment to Orla Barry's discussion. I'm topgold on Twitter.
As Eliot Van Buskirk suggested in a recent Wired magazine article, things will become more difficult for the RIAA and for IRMA to set out their file sharing complaints on the heels of a countersuit in America. That is largely because the methods used when documenting copyright infringements with digital downloads have come under fire.
Single mom gets nailed as a distributor. A current US case involves Tanya Andersen, a single mother who has filed a countersuit against the RIAA after the organisation mistakenly sued her for sharing music online. Anderson’s suit accuses the RIAA of being a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisation (RICO). This means she can use the RICO act to file for damages related to “fraud,invasion of privacy, abuse of process, electronic trespass, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, negligent misrepresentation, the tort of outrage, and deceptive business practices”.
Music industry uses dodgy techniques. Some copyright lawyers, such as Mike Ratoza with Bullivant, Houser and Bailey, believe Anderson has a claim that could force the RIAA into the discovery phase of her countersuit. Once the discovery phase opens, potentially incriminating details about the way the music industry seeks out piracy would become public. And if that happens, a class action suit as large as the one brought against the tobacco industry could follow.
A few other things would go public too. Details like the fees charged by anti-piracy lawyers, the reason behind the average file-sharing settlement fee of €3000, how the industry decides who to sue, and whether the musicians get any of the money from the lawsuits.
One messy detail involves the work of investigators such as MediaSentry, an agency often engaged by the RIAA to sniff out illegal downloaders. MediaSentry uses tactics that areillegal in some States. Its software sniffs the internet addresses of computers that are connected to online networks for the purpose of sharing copyrighted material. MediaSentry also monitors popular online forums for people discussing locations of music files and it also distributes decoy files containing bugs that alert the company about file sharing.
MediaSentry knows perpetrators by their internet addresses. But that is not good electronic forensics because often anyone can use an IP address.
All bets are off with open wifi. As people who park outside my home know, my laptops are only a few of the devices connected to the internet at my address. I live at a shared IP address and I can tell from Trend Micro Internet Security that up to six different people connect to my wireless access point every day. They see the internet, not an internal network when they connect. I don’t mind because I also connect to open wifi nodes throughout Ireland too. If MediaSentry identified my home as a file sharing point, the next step would be for a search warrant to be issued to remove all devices containing hard drives from my house. That could be challenging for a garda looking for laptops that are normally kept 22 miles away from my home.
The matter gets more complicated because I connect to the internet and download music files directly onto Nokia phones. These phones have no hard drives. When they connect to the internet, they look like a normal computer. Most search warrants for music piracy do not authorise the seizing of mobile phones.
Technical readers would probably be interested in knowing that I do not require network address translation (NAT) in order for multiple devices to connect to my wireless router. If you can see“Mellifont Friary” in Cashel, you can see the internet.
What about people who have protected their wifi hotspots with passwords like WEP keys? One quick look at the messages on boards.ie and you can see how easy it is to crack the WEP keys or to find WEP keys used in public venues throughout Ireland. If a homeowner uses security more complicated than WEP, often some applications like live video streaming or internet telephony do not work well.
Irish broadband customers who are taking up promotions for high speed access focus on getting the kit to work, not on securing their networks. Most broadband homes I have visited seldom run a program to detect spyware or malware. These broadband homes would never know if their computers were sharing music files on their own.
And if a home broadband user is to found to be sitting on top of a treasure trove of music he never knew existed, does that mean he is a distributor out to wreck the music industry? Not in my mind.
Why not help us make easy purchases? As I mentioned to friends in the CreativeCamp conference, why doesn't the music industry make it easier for me to purchase tracks online? It's very easy charging new maps to my O2 account. It's a major exercise getting tracks from the Nokia Music Store directly onto my phone with the purchased paid through phone credit. I cannot get Amazon MP3 downloads in Ireland. I just think the music industry should consider how its sales of CDs will continue dropping as more and more people connect to music through free MySpace sessions and through shared music experiences. The artists make more money from merchandising and ticket sales than through CD sales anyway. Recognise that and facilitate what the consumers want by making it easier to buy digitally.
Because if you ask around, most people don't want to rip off musicians. They feel good paying for music that gives them the soundtrack of their lives.
Orla Barry Life! on Newstalk 106-108 in Ireland. You can listen to the audio stream too. Or just download the 6.1MB 96kbps MP3 file.
Nate Anderson -- "Does file sharing hurt the music business?"
Norbert Michel's paper in Topics in Economic Analysis & Policy uses regression analysis to prove some US music consumers "could have decreased their CD purchases (prior to 2004) by about 13 percent due to Internet file sharing."
Eliot van Buskirk -- "Lawsuit Could Force RIAA to Reveal Secrets" in Wired magazine, March 2008. The update follows the original story about the countersuit.
Previously: "Shed a tear for Andrea Corr"