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This is a journal article in the UCLA Entertainment Law Review. The article is by Kristy Wiehe, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal. This article examines how the RIAA uses copyright law to sue individuals, and whether or not the RIAA’s interpretation of the law is correct. The author first describes how P2P file-sharing programs work, explaining that most of them scan the user’s computer for media files, and place these files in a “shared” folder that is uploaded to the P2P network. When the files are uploaded to the network, the user is making the files available for other users to download. The RIAA claims that if these files are copyrighted material, then this “making available” is defined as copyright infringement. In the Napster case in 2001, the court agreed with the RIAA’s view. The author, however, disagrees with the RIAA’s interpretation of the law. She contends that copyright law says it is illegal to distribute copies in the form of material objects to the public, and that the RIAA should have to prove that an actual transfer of the copyrighted material took place from one user to another. Parts of copyright law are quoted in the article to make this point. She believes that without a definitive “transfer of ownership,” the RIAA should not be able to sue someone. The RIAA believes that the “making available” of files is considered distribution, and this is the fundamental disagreement between the RIAA and the author.
In addition, the author compares the use of these lawsuits to stop file-sharing to an “effort to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.” The problem is so large that suing a few individuals will most likely not fix it. The solution proposed in the article is for the record companies to make it “economically rational” for consumers to pay for music files instead of downloading them illegally. She suggests pricing that asymptotically approaches zero as the number of songs purchased increases. Therefore, if a person downloads thousands of songs, they won’t have to make extremely high payments.
I strongly agree with the author’s interpretation of copyright law, and I believe that the record companies should have to present more proof than a file being in a “shared folder” in order to file a lawsuit. Also, the P2P programs should eliminate their scanning programs because there is a significant chance that they could incriminate an unknowing person who has legally obtained copyrighted work and stored it on his or her computer. Proof of a transfer should be necessary for a lawsuit, and it is also questionable whether or not an mp3 file is a “material object.” People are being sued without concrete proof of infringement, and the RIAA needs to be stopped from abusing the law to gain money. This argument will be part of my contention that these suits are unfair.
The author’s suggested business solution may be unfair to the record companies, but these companies certainly need to focus on making large-scale changes to their sales techniques.