Peace Offering for File Traders?

(Wired) The music industry plans to offer what it calls a “general amnesty” to file traders who step forth and promise not to do it again, but experts say few will take the bait. In addition, the Recording Industry Association of America intends to file its first wave of lawsuits against file traders next week.

The offer, first reported by Billboard Bulletin, would require people to sign a notarized form promising to delete illegally downloaded files from their computer, submit a copy of a photo identification and pledge to stop the infringing behavior. In return, the RIAA would agree to not sue them.

Those who violate the agreement would be charged with willful copyright infringement.

An official from the music trade group had no comment on the amnesty proposal.

The amnesty does not apply to those suspected music “pirates” whose information was subpoenaed from Internet service providers and universities over the summer. The RIAA has collected personal information on over 1,500 people so far with the intention of filing lawsuits.

One attorney said he would not advise a client to volunteer for this program.

“I would think that many of the people who have downloaded music would be concerned about their privacy rights,” said Tom Lewry, an attorney with Brooks Kushman. “To put identifying information into a database that the RIAA owns will turn people off, and therefore the program will not succeed.

“I think people distrust the RIAA,” he said.

Lewry represented Michigan Tech student Joseph Nievelt, one of four college students sued by the RIAA in April. Nievelt’s case settled for $15,000.

The general concept of amnesty is a good one, Lewry said, but he was skeptical of “creating a database of violators, so to speak.”

“Just as we have been cautious about programs like Total Information Awareness, anytime a giant entity starts collecting information on individual Americans, we should be suspicious of how that information can then be used,” said Jason Schultz, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“Its not at all clear what the RIAA is going to go with that information once they’ve gathered it,” he said. “In the end, this still doesn’t solve the problem.”

Schultz said it’s not clear whether the RIAA has the authority to grant a full amnesty for file sharing anyway, as they don’t represent songwriters and music publishers.

“Before people make their deal with the devil, they should be careful to make sure that, in fact, they won’t get sued by anybody for what they did,” he said.

File traders themselves dismissed the idea.

“They want end users to come out with their files in the air? No thanks. I’m not afraid of them,” said Damon Eckard, an independent musician.

“I think the RIAA is using the file-sharing thing as a scapegoat for the amazing drop in sales,” he said. “Sales in every damn industry are down.”

Eckard said he has been exposed to a wider variety of music through file-sharing services and that if he really likes what he hears, he buys the CD anyway.

Jeff Thompson said he wouldn’t participate in an amnesty program because “I know what I’m doing is not legal, but at the same time, I’m not passing (the music) on to anyone else.”

Like Eckard, Thompson said he downloads files to find new music, and then buys the music he likes.

“In the grand scheme of things, Napster and Kazaa have led to more CD purchases,” he said.

Thompson said the RIAA should focus its energy on building legitimate media services.

“It’s hard for me to feel sympathy for them, because if they develop a business plan to take advantage of the huge, obvious demand for digital media, the margins are going to be so far and away better that it will cost them nothing,” he said.

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