RIAA vs. the rest of us: The same old song

File swapper Jammie Thomas-Rassett lost for a third time against the RIAA. Cringe says move on -- and fix our insane copyright laws

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Still, it could be worse. At least Thomas is not Joel Tenenbaum, a Boston University grad student who cheerfully admitted in court to illegally swapping files, or his Harvard Law School attorney Charles Nesson, who crumbled up styrofoam in court to demonstrate how files are sent across the Internet and admitted to smoking pot in the courtroom (that's where he admitted it, not where he smoked it -- I think). Not surprisingly, Tenenbaum lost too.

As regular readers can attest, I'm no fan of the RIAA or MPAA and their battle to use copyright law as a blunt instrument to beat on college students and dead people. It's a long and shameful history that also includes using p-to-p nets to distribute spyware in the guise of MP3s, in possible violation of federal wiretap laws.

And it's all based on a lie. File sharing isn't killing the recording industry; this is a self-inflicted wound. Actually, it's a series of wounds, starting with the industry's absolute refusal to adapt to a changing distribution model and either create its own electronic store back in the 1990s when the opportunity arose or make a deal with Napster or MP3.com, both of which were eager to provide the kind of all-you-can-eat subscription services that are now the industry norm. Combine that with the fact that, after iTunes came along, people realized they didn't have to spend $19 on a crap CD when they could buy the two songs they liked for 99 cents apiece.

In short, the record companies are hurting because they treat their customers like manure. They always have. The Internet just gave people a way to fight back.

Equally at fault here is U.S. copyright law, which is really designed to thwart large-scale counterfeiters and plagiarists, not average citizens who use easily accessible technological tools to make and share personal copies. Forcing juries to decide fines ranging from $750 to $150,000 per offense for "willful" infringement is ludicrous. That needs to change.

But damn, girlfriend. Haven't you had enough? I'm thinking it's time to pay up and move on.

It's unfortunate that the two parties who've chosen to stand up to the RIAA's Gestapo tactics have been so, well, lame, and that their attorneys have been a few dime bags short of a full lid -- because there's a lot of wrong here and very little right.

Who do you think is right? Weigh in below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "RIAA vs. the rest of us: The same old song," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringeley's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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