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06 March 2005

P2P Vs the 0.01 Percent-ers

In a recent blog entry The Antagonist wrote how, if the music industry continues to demonstrate its historical recalcitrance to adapt in the face of unstoppable technological novelty, specifically with regard to digital media, it is doomed. This is especially true when these technological novelties occur with insistent regularity, are entirely unstoppable, and they lead to exponential increases in the ease and pace at which media can be digitised and distributed.

In February of 2001 the world knew that Sean Fanning's Napster network had over 60 million registered users worldwide. Despite the availability of this information and knowing that there could be nearly that many users in America alone, the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) launched the first found of law suits against 261 peer to peer users in September 2003 amid a blaze of publicity - publicity designed to distract from the lack of substance and logic behind the action and in a shock-tactic attempt to deter other peer-to-peer users from file-sharing.

In just over two years the RIAA has fired off another dozen or so rounds of law suits, with accompanying media frenzy, at varying numbers of individuals in America. Recent Wired News coverage of similar actions by the Motion Picture Ass. of America (MPAA) suggests that the RIAA has filed more than 6,000 lawsuits against individuals to date.

In the two years the RIAA has been issuing legal threats, a lot else has happened. One of these things is a broadband revolution and another is the release of a report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project entitled "A decade of adoption: How the internet has woven itself into American Life". The report claims that 128 million people aged 18 and over form the basis of the American Internet population and that 29% of them regularly download and share music. This equates to over 37,000,000 file-sharers in America alone, and that's without including figures for those under 18 years of age.

Seeing as the RIAA have dictated that we include under-18s by firing law suits at 12-year olds, we must also try to account for them here. The Pew report tells us that almost 30% of 18-29 year olds participate in file-sharing and I think it's safe to guess that the figure would be at least as many again in the 12-17 year old range, 87% of whom are regular Internet users. Whichever way you look at it, 37 million file sharers is a hellishly conservative estimate and figures of at least double that, in America alone, are eminently possible when considering that computers and Internet connections are regularly shared among an arbitrary number of family members.

So, we have around 60-80 million peer-to-peer users in America, ISPs and communications companies claiming that as much as 80% of all network traffic is peer-to-peer related, and the RIAA playing a veritable game of Sissyphean catch-up with 6,000-8,000 threats of legal action issued.

By The Antagonist's quick and ready reckoning this is less than 0.01% of the filesharing population in America and it's taken a little over two years to 'achieve'. In light of these facts and the apparent commitment of the RIAA to this flawed logic of suing customers, some might also wonder about the logistics of issuing legal threats against the remaining 99.99% of American peer-to-peer users. What about people that don't want to settle out of court? That's a lot of court cases. Oh, and what about peer to peer users in the rest of free world?

Even Intellectual Property advisors seem to think the RIAA and MPAA are misguided in both action and intention. Intellectual Property Law & Business, in an article headed Don't Sue The Customers, says the number of legal threats issued by the RIAA is "at 4,280 and counting" with the analysis that "evidence thus far suggests that the RIAA litigation campaign has had little, if any, effect on P2P file-sharing".

4,280 and counting. It's a long way from 4,280 to the 37,000,000 confirmed users and even further still to the 60,000,000 suggested by Intellectual Property Law & Business. Their recomendation? The only sensible one for the RIAA, MPAA and their global counterparts - that they give up their "dreams of controlling distribution in favor of collecting fair compensation".

In any form of business, you have to be one step ahead of the competition. When the competition is free, you've got your work cut out to survive. Instead of attempting to sue their customers, the conglomerates should be looking to provide some of that ever-elusive 'value-add' that all businesses claim to offer and all consumers seek to find. Until then, they're on a road to nowhere.

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