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RIAA Lawsuits Help Terrorists

DO THE RIAA LAWSUITS HELP TERRORISTS? An opinion piece (via p2pnet) in Tuesday’s Stanford Daily argues that the lawsuit campaign, if it’s successful (a big if), will create a nightmare for anti-terrorism agencies by pushing masses of regular folks onto encrypted networks like Freenet, MUTE, or GNUnet. As a rhetorical move, this “something-we-don’t-like-for-other-reasons helps terrorists” line invites abuse, but here it’s rather convincing. And it’s not the first time this case has been made: see Shirky’s “The RIAA Succeeds Where the Cypherpunks Failed”.

While it’s pretty clear that, if the lawsuits succeed at making Kazaa et al. unusable, music fans will settle on other ways to share music, it’s still an open question whether encrypted networks will be the preferred method. So in three years the NSA might not be wading through piles of encrypted Brittney albums while trying to track down the next Osama bin Laden, but the RIAA still has a problem of their own: whether people end up sharing music on Freenet, with iPods, or with recordable DVDs that hold 100 albums, it’s going to be impossible to track. And once traffic starts being impossible to track, the possibility of a Voluntary Collective Licensing (VCL) system goes out the window.

It might be helpful to look at it this way: right now, the major labels have a safety net. A VCL scheme–where people can pay $5 on their monthly internet bill for legal access to all the music they want and their money gets divided up according to downloads–could easily bring in just as much money as the labels are making now (and it would be way better for musicians). They’ll never accept it of course, because then they’d be on equal competitive footing with unsigned musicians and with hundreds of independent labels that have much better luck at picking great music (some call it good taste), but at least they have a Plan B if the lawsuit campaign fails. However, as soon as all the people who’d rather not give them money move to encrypted networks or off the internet completely (to iPods and DVD-Rs) there’s no longer a way to track downloads, and a VCL scheme stops being possible.

At that point the major labels no longer have the option of a slow death, as competition from indies chips away at their market share. They just go down in flames.

On an equally pleasant note, the new version of our favorite anonymous filesharing client MUTE came out last week. Zero point three, baby.

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