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Monday, June 30, 2003

Music Files on Your Computer?

WSJ.com has an FAQ column about the RIAA's crackdown on online music sharing:

"What are your chances of getting caught, and what will get you caught? If you're caught, what will happen to you -- fines, jail time?

"The odds are slim. On any given day, millions of people upload files; the RIAA says it will initiate hundreds of lawsuits starting in August, with more to follow. And if the RIAA's announcement scared you straight, you won't be sued; the RIAA began collecting evidence on Thursday, a day after announcing the action. 'If nothing else, it was a last opportunity for people to stop,' says Matt Oppenheim, the trade group's senior vice president for business and legal affairs. If you're swapping from overseas, you're unaffected by U.S. copyright law, and the RIAA says it has no plans to pursue online pirates in other countries under different copyright codes. 'The efforts on the international side are focused on education,' Mr. Oppenheim says.

"Also, your risk is lower if you are sharing only a couple of files, and zero if you're the kind of music swapper who only downloads, not uploads -- 'people who are just takers but not givers,' says Raymond James analyst Phil Leigh.

"Yet the record labels' methodology could theoretically snare unsophisticated file sharers. For instance, people who sign up for the P2P networks and have lots of music files on their computer but no intention of sharing them could be caught if they didn't think to change the settings when registering -- the default is to turn sharing on, and if you don't change that, other users can download even when you're not actively using the program. (Pleading ignorance probably isn't a valid legal defense; the RIAA says it will address such instances on a case-by-case basis.) Also, more technologically adept file-sharers could either mask their IP addresses -- though 'only your top 0.001% maybe could do it,' according to MediaDefender's Randy Saaf -- or switch to one of the fast-growing alternative services that are tougher for investigators to crack.

"If you're caught and sued, you'd face legal penalties of between $750 to $150,000 per song downloaded, but most analysts expect the RIAA to settle with most defendants for much less. Four university students who were sued in April by recording companies for running file-sharing services agreed to each pay between $12,000 and $17,500. You won't get jail time unless the government separately decides to prosecute, which most observers say is unlikely."

Full link is here, although it's probably only available for subscribers (hence the long excerpt I provided).