In what appears to be a first, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has made direct threats against a user of a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing network for simply downloading a pirated movie.
The recording and motion picture industries have clearly lost control over their copyrights as P2P networks have grown. People are demanding quick and easy access to entertainment on their computers, and a populus which has grown tired of paying inflated prices for retail music and movies has simply stopped doing so. The latest blow to the industry's image as a good neighbor came when it imposed expensive royalties on Internet music stations, immediately shutting most of them down. Many webcasters and their fans vowed to stop purchasing CD's altogether.
The P2P phenomenon has gained the ire of big media bosses like perennial 2600 nemesis Jack Valenti. The MPAA president was widely ridiculed in the hacker world for his comment, "If we have to file a thousand lawsuits a day, we'll do it." Yet, with a recent action against a University of Georgia student, such threats might start to be taken more seriously.
Ben Albert, a freshman at the university, downloaded "Austin Powers 3: Goldmember" from the KaZaA file-sharing service late last month, and was contacted only days later by the administration. The MPAA had demanded that the university take administrative action against Albert, and the school gave in. Albert told 2600.com that he was not allowed to discuss the situation until now.
The young biology student seems perplexed as to why the MPAA would target small-time P2P users like himself. He suggests that the motion picture industry might cut off the movies at their source - the users who initially encode the works and place them on the network. However, in a telephone interview with 2600.com, Albert offered that the MPAA could do better, creating its own competitive P2P network. "I would pay a few dollars to download that movie," Albert mused. And in what might come as the biggest surprise to industry insiders, he did not hesitate to say he would consider buying the DVD.
Remaining unclear is how the MPAA discovered the copyright violation in the first place. Was the copy of "Austin Powers" a trap set by the industry's goon squad? Was Ben Albert's computer, or the University of Georgia network, somehow monitored? Unfortunately, none of these important questions were asked by the school.
On Monday, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) asked a federal court to force Verizon, an Internet provider, to reveal the name and address of one of its customers in Pittsburgh. The customer, RIAA alleges, is offering upwards of 600 songs on the KaZaA network.
Whether the entertainment industries go after downloaders like Albert, or uploaders like the as-yet unnamed user in Pittsburgh, it seems intent on ending the P2P phenomenon without learning any lessons from it. In the two years since Napster was shut down by the RIAA, the industry has failed to create a viable alternative, despite the demand for entertainment delivered over the Internet.
If these industries spent as much money on research as they did on lawyers, they would be in the technology race and have a good chance of winning back the customers they've lost to current P2P networks. Instead, we might expect to soon see "a thousand lawsuits a day."