Org's head speaks at Media Institute

WASHIGNTON — If the Recording Industry Assn. of America has its way, in the near future consumers will come to accept lawsuits for illegal downloading music off the Internet as they do parking or speeding tickets.

RIAA topper Mitch Bainwol made the parking-ticket analogy Tuesday after giving a speech to the Media Institute, an industry-funded group that holds luncheons and forums to debate media-related issues.

“At some point I think (the lawsuits) will become like parking or speeding tickets,” Bainwol said. “If you drive over the limit, you understand that you’re running the risk of getting caught.”

In fact, Bainwol maintained the lawsuits and antipiracy message is already getting through to consumers. On the 100th day after the controversial legal dragnet began, Bainwol claimed that the public broadly supports the strategy, referring to research conducted in early December by Peter D. Hart Research.

Support from majority

According to the survey, 56% of all those questioned supported or understood the RIAA’s action, while 21% did not.

The same poll found that 53% of respondents believed that file-sharing should be illegal, a 20-point increase from a similar survey in June in which 33% of respondents answered the same way.

The RIAA’s progress report did little to deter its harshest critics, however.

Jason Schultz, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an org that vigorously fights for more consumer copyright freedom, took issue with the research, noting that 60 million Americans continue to download music off the Internet.

Suggests monthly fee

“Americans may be realizing more and more that what they’re doing is illegal, but that doesn’t mean they think it should be illegal,” Schultz said, suggesting that, if given a choice, consumers would rather pay a flat $5 fee to the RIAA each month to download as much music as they want.

Such a low fee for unlimited access to digital music is not an option under any serious discussion. The RIAA would much prefer to steer downloaders to the proliferation of legal online music sites. Bainwol predicted that the legal sites will gain more of a following in the next year and help increase awareness about illegal downloading.

For now, groups like the EFF will continue to fight the recording industry’s legal action in the hopes they can find a way to stop the suits from becoming as commonplace parking or speeding tickets.

“Even if it is illegal, it’s not worse than speeding,” Schultz argued. “And traffic tickets don’t cost you $150,000 per song.”

RIAA ‘becomes the police’

“Speeding tickets are handed out by the government, not private corporations with profit motives,” he continued. “I think we have to be concerned when the RIAA becomes the police that hands out tickets on file-sharing.”

While violations to U.S. copyright laws can carry hefty fines, the RIAA settles most suits for less than $5,000 and only targets file-swappers who have downloaded more than 10,000 music files.

“We will continue to enforce and defend our rights, and we will do it in as fair a way as possible,” Bainwol said firmly.

Bainwol also stressed that the RIAA is only suing the most egregious music swappers.

“We’re not talking about doing a 70 in a 60 here,” he quipped. “This is more like a 120 in a 40.”

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