After years of declining record sales often attributed to the advent of file-sharing technology, the Recording Industry Association of America filed almost 300 lawsuits against private citizens last week, in an attempt to stem the trend to share media. The industry’s lawsuits will disproportionately affect college students because of the popularity of the technology among their ranks, but the prosecutors have targeted citizens of all stripes. A better future for both music consumers and artists can be attained through harnessing technology to end barriers to entering the music industry and allowing consumers to purchase music directly from their favorite artists. While the RIAA may suffer because of new technology, suing the millions of people who participate in file sharing without pursuing more creative solutions is not only harsh and underhanded, but it will stifle creativity as well.

The RIAA is planning to sue these individuals in the hope that they will scare file-swappers, who use programs like Kazaa and Grokster to share media files without restriction. The legal action calls for file sharers to pay the industry $150,000 per file in damages, an incredibly high figure, as many sharers have hundreds, often thousands of files stored on their computers. The RIAA is promising amnesty to those individuals who not only confess to sharing music, but also if they provide their names, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. An added stipulation is that they must destroy all illegal copies of music that they might possess. Advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation have warned downloaders not to accept the amnesty offer because they could open themselves up to prosecution from third parties. With the possibly bogus amnesty and the massive monetary rewards the RIAA is seeking, the industry is effectively holding the threat of bankruptcy over the heads of nearly every person who uses these programs – possibly as many as 60 million Americans.

There are better options available for the music industry. In the ’90s, file sharing became an attractive alternative to paying steep prices for CDs – prices kept artificially high as a result of price fixing on the part of the industry. Instead of trying to kill file sharing, the RIAA would be wise to look for ways in which to embrace the technology, such as Apple’s iTunes strategy, in which customers pay a small fee in order to download music. Musicians have also slowly embraced the option of allowing listeners to purchase music through individual artists’ websites. This technology is promising on at least two fronts: It minimizes the barriers to enter the music business and, as a result, will allow more innovative music to reach a higher number of listeners. Simultaneously, consumers will be rewarded with more reasonable prices.








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