I just finished reading an article about the first Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) trial going on in Duluth (Catch it on Wired here.) I could not believe the RIAA is still going after people, and even going to trial! I cannot believe that this group is not done getting blasted by the public… again. Now, do not get me wrong I understand that the RIAA is trying to protect their rights, and people are downloading songs illegally, but going after people one by one seems to be a huge waste of time and money.

The problem that the RIAA has is that they are trying to deal with an entrenched idea. When file sharing was available, this would be pre-Peer-to-Peer (P2P) (ie: Kazaa, BitTorrent, Morpheus, and LimeWire), the big concern was not music it was software piracy. The software industry responded by developing more advanced anti-piracy techniques. For whatever reason the music industry did not see what was going to happen. Now they are trying to play catch-up.

So what is the problem? The problem is the RIAA is prosecuting people in an effort to stop others from downloading music. It is not about the money. The RIAA cannot expect to recoup the estimated $4 million in damages in the Duluth case, and in many other cases the RIAA has taken significantly less when they have settled out of court. So is this tactic creating fear in the public? Have people started downloading less music because they are afraid that they RIAA is going to sue them?

I doubt it.

I checked download.com (operated by CNET) to see what the file sharing software downloads looked like. The top downloaded software is a program called Morpheus. This piece of file sharing software was added to download.com’s list on September 28th, 2007 and was downloaded over 170 million times (If you are looking for the updated list visit Download.com).

Now it is unlikely that all 170 million people that downloaded Morpheus did it to download illegal music. This number may also represent several downloads by a single person. Lets suppose 30% of this total number did use this software to download one song (the minimum number of song’s the RIAA says they will prosecute you for downloading). Of this 30% let’s say 20% could be tracked down so the RIAA can prosecute them. That means the RIAA would be trying to prosecute 10.2 million people. Why would any company even want to try and do that? Multiply whatever dollar amount you want per prosecution and you will get an even better idea of how impractical this would be.

So what should the RIAA be working on? First, increase the amounts of money put toward copyright protection and continue to put money toward this. Second, develop an automated way to “spoof” the files that are on P2P sites. They should work with the companies that built them, or on their own to find ways to stop piracy through these sites. Third, the RIAA should stop trying to fight the public through prosecution of those people that download music. This will not stop piracy, but drive it underground and increase the number of avenues given to people. This will only make it harder for the RIAA to monitor. Fourth, they should work with the companies that provide mp3 downloads, like Apple’s iTunes. These services should be promoted as the legal way to download music.

If the RIAA continues to go after anyone that downloads music illegally they will be more likely to see more t-shirts lambasting them. What will be worse for the RIAA is that piracy will be driven deeper and fractured even more. It will require more effort on the RIAA’s part to find out who is pirating music. They need to cut their losses and work on ways to curb piracy in the future rather than try and scare people into submission.