RIAA to discontinue litigation strategy, coordinate more with ISPs

Rather than pursue suspected file-sharers in court, the recording industry will take a more technological approach to finding, penalizing, and then potentially suing individuals when it has more evidence against them, BetaNews has learned.

A spokesperson for the Recording Industry Association of America confirmed to BetaNews this morning that, in an agreement with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Association's members will discontinue their strategy of seeking widespread litigation against large numbers of individuals suspected in trafficking in unauthorized recordings. Instead, they will adopt a strategy of coordinating with Internet service providers to notify individual customers of suspected violations via e-mail.

The news, which was first reported this morning by The Wall Street Journal, was characterized by RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy for BetaNews this morning as "mostly right." He then provided us with more explicit and accurate details.

Currently pending lawsuits against individuals from record companies will not be dropped, contrary to many interpretations and headlines that have appeared this morning. Furthermore, individual members and the Association as a whole will retain the right to sue individual suspected violators, so this is not the end of all the lawsuits.

What does end, effective immediately, is the strategy of using litigation as a principal deterrent for file traders everywhere. Members have apparently agreed with Atty. Gen. Cuomo that a more technological strategy can be a more effective deterrent, and may also perhaps be less costly for the industry. So for instance, colleges and universities will no longer be receiving pre-litigation letters from RIAA members' attorneys, warning them about potential lawsuits. Furthermore, no new lawsuits will be filed against anonymous individuals, where the RIAA subpoenas records from ISPs in an attempt to obtain defendants' identities.

However, if identified individuals ignore their e-mail notices from ISPs and trafficking in unauthorized tracks continues, members retain the rights to initiate lawsuits. This based on the explicit information BetaNews received from the RIAA Friday morning.

For his part, Cuomo will actively encourage ISPs to cooperate with the RIAA to institute punitive measures against customers suspected of file sharing. Exactly what those measures will be has apparently not been determined yet, though it would appear that escalating surcharges, up until the point where suspects' accounts are suspended, have not been taken off the table. This gradual response method would conceivably give ISPs a means of charging customers not so much for suspected file-trading violations specifically, but rather for gumming up their networks.

Infringement notices presented to suspected violators will apparently take a standardized form, making them legally valid and accurate and capable of withstanding legal challenges.

The cooperation being encouraged by the New York Attorney General with ISPs implies that the state will allow them to share their customers' records with representatives of the recording industry. Whether the State would take the measure of compelling ISPs to turn over those records, has not been stated. Mr. Cuomo's office has not released a statement this morning, though we suspect one is forthcoming.

This news comes one day after a statewide poll showed more New Yorkers supporting Cuomo to replace Hillary Clinton for the soon-to-be-vacant junior senate seat, than Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late President. Sen. Clinton has been nominated by Pres.-Elect Obama to serve as the next Secretary of State. Cuomo, himself the son of a popular and inspirational chief executive, has become very popular in his state, especially for his very public stance in technology-related cases -- for example, against Verizon Wireless last year, against Intel for suspected antitrust violations earlier this year, and against Dell this spring for misleading advertising.

Perhaps not coincidentally, this news also comes two days after the discovery that the RIAA apparently used documents obtained in one case to exact "John Doe" prosecutions in separate cases -- a practice which not only violated the explicit instructions of the judge in that case, but which could be subject to sanctions as well.

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