Online Music Piracy - are you at risk?

Did you know that the internet went commercial almost 10 years ago now? While the ‘internet’ as a technology has been around since the late 60’s, it wasn’t until 1993 that the first graphical web browser, Mosaic, was released, resulting in a 341,634% increase in WWW traffic!

In these last 10 years, the internet has made a major impact onto a number of industries, and the biggest ‘losers’ who have been adversely effected by the world going online would have to be the music recording industry.

CD Sales have dropped in the last few years by more than 25%, and names like Napster and Kazza have become well known to many people online as a great way to get popular music on demand. Record companies were (and still are) very slow on the uptake of this new medium for distribution, and they are clinging tooth and nail to the physical package that digital music is distributed in – a CD. To keep consumers purchasing music through the only currently legal medium, a CD from a retailer, they are attempting to do a Taliban and turn back time by shutting down new online services through legal action.

So far, success has mostly been on the side of the record companies. Napster, one of the most phenomenal success stories in the internet world was shut down by the courts. In it’s footsteps, a range of new peer-to-peer networks have sprung up, essentially removing the central directory of music that made Napster so vulnerable – now the users are the network, and there isn’t a central controlling authority for record companies to sue.

So, the latest play in the battle over online music piracy – one can’t loose sight of the fact that accessing music without paying for it is piracy and theft, no matter how you cut it – is targeting the user, and this means you could be at risk.

In Australia, authorities have been fairly successful in pursing online pirates, and have done it in a way most people would applaud. By targeting people running large websites of MP3 downloads, often drawing some income from the advertising associated with the massive traffic these sites bring, Australian authorities have been going after the criminals, and leaving the enthusiasts alone. That was until the last day in May, when Federal Police raided the offices of UTS.

Now in the US, things are getting interesting, with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (which erodes more civil liberties in the US than the most draconian security legislation) as their weapon, suing individuals sharing music at home. After forcing Internet Service Providers to reveal the names and addresses of subscribers accused of sharing copyrighted works, the RIAA has filed 261 suits against individuals out of the estimated 60 million Americans sharing music online. This list includes, among others, a single mother from the Bronx, and US Federal Copyright Law provides for damages from $1100 more than $200K (AUD). Considering each person being sued was offering more than 1000 songs for download, each suit is likely to be worth millions of dollars.

Where all this goes is anyone’s guess. While it is not reasonable or likely that the legal landslide from the RIAA is going to extend across the tens of millions of online file sharers in the US, it is also curious to note the Copyright Laws as they stand in Australia were updated in 2000 to make the transmitting party more responsible for copyright violation (thus bring the laws more into line with the US model).

This means that your computer system, if it is serving up files to be shared, is regarded as breaking Copyright Law, giving all sorts of agencies the ability to pursue you. Currently, they can only track an IP address absolutely, and this IP address is the property of your ISP. They can, however, be compelled by a court to release details about you, thus putting you at risk. And if you run a network or are responsible for your company internet connection (as a director or officer) you may find out that you are the one being pursued for any breaches of the Copyright Law eminating from your network. While the Australian experience does not provide clear precendent for an ISP to hand over your contact details in a Civil matter at this time, the US experience shows that it may only be a matter of time, and it is thus a risk you should be aware of and minimising.

If you have an opinion on this matter, please don’t hesitate to contact us using the feedback pane on the right of this site, or get in touch with Internetrix. Stand by in future months as we continue watching this amazing change and its consequences unfold before our eyes.

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