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Run Over by the RIAABy the Numbers

By Cassi Hunt

I called Bowie the RIAA representative again. When we last spoke, she had informed me that the RIAA settlement negotiation hotline didn’t actually negotiate settlements: either I could pay $3750, or I could take the case to court.

Fortunately, lawyers descended on the music industry extortion racket and now many specialize in music copyright infringement, so it was a simple task to contact one. Unfortunately, as a Boston-area lawyer informed me, legal advice is only useful in deciding whether or not to go to trial, and representation only helps in the courtroom. When it comes to settlements, the RIAA is no more responsive to attorneys than the hotline was to me.

The problem is I can’t win if I go to court: even if the judge (or jury) decides in my favor, I’ll be left with legal fees exceeding $3750. And in order to get that back, the court would have to find the case frivolous. But with the RIAA screwing pirates with such single-minded ferocity, no way they’d let that happen. It’d throw a wrench in their whole suing machine.

On top of that, the burden of proof doesn’t have to be “beyond a shadow of a doubt” for a guilty verdict in civil cases. In legalese, the RIAA needs only a “preponderance of the evidence,” which means it’s more than 50 percent likely I’m guilty. And if the judge did find me guilty, and the amount of money I have to pay is the same or smaller than the settlement amount the RIAA offered, then I have to pay the RIAA’s legal fees as well. So this whole mess likely would actually have been cheaper for me if the RIAA had never offered a settlement. And no doubt they know it.

So I bent over a table and called Bowie back to settle. She said that according to our settlement, I agreed to produce the $3750 within six weeks.

“I didn’t agree to anything. I didn’t have a choice,” I responded.

“Well … yes …” she sputtered. She said the paperwork would be sent through the mail, and after receiving it I would have fifteen days to return it. She had the audacity to end with: “Have a nice day.”

No, Bowie, I won’t be having one of those for a while. Let’s break it down: $3750 amounts to 1071 iced chai tea latt s. 790 delicious Anna’s burritos.

40 textbooks.

So before I agree to forgo so much money I don’t even have, let’s break it down MIT-style and see what the RIAA says I’ve cost them. Thanks to RIAA lobbyists, US copyright law says each song someone shares is worth $750. For my 272 songs, that’s $204,000. The best figure I have for the number of users on i2hub is 560 — the number of people screwed by the RIAA. This is a reasonable number for total users considering, as far as I know, i2hub would kick off users who weren’t sharing multiple gigs of data.

Napster allows unlimited access to their music collection for a monthly fee. If all of those i2hub users had been on Napster instead, it would have taken over three years to rack up the money I’ve supposedly cost them. And if we guess that the number of music files I’ve been accused of sharing is typical — and I think most would agree that it is very, very low compared to the average pirate — then it would take 1708 years of every user using Napster to spend what we’ve supposedly cost them! Apparently, not only does the RIAA expect us to subscribe to internet music services, but the next 20 generations of our children, too!

How about iTunes? It would take 758 people buying all of my music to make up the amount — already more than the number of i2hub users. But everyone has different music tastes and I’d like to think they don’t all match mine. Using the RIAA’s 2004 consumer profile and an approximate breakdown of my own preferences, it would take 5861 people — over 10 times the number of users — to make up the $204,000. (If you’d like to see the math behind these figures, check out my Web site, http://www.screwpirates.com.)

Of course, the RIAA wouldn’t agree with that figure: they think iTunes should sell music for more than $0.99 per song. Still, it’s a rather desperate attempt to lend legitimacy to a shady copyright law if you ask me, especially considering the RIAA already makes more on an iTunes sale than a CD sale (http://www.technewsworld.com/story/49727.html).

I acknowledge that the RIAA has a right to protect their music, but the current copyright law isn’t about that. It’s about making it as easy as possible for the RIAA to threaten people with an exorbitant fine if they go to court, and nail them for at least the amount of money it would take to seek a fair trial.

Extort: To obtain from another by coercion or intimidation (according to dictionary.com). Some people say the number of RIAA victims — around 20,000 — makes the situation old news. But until they are stopped, either by the courts or by enough indignant consumers, the issue should never leave the headlines. Extortion is worth being angry over. And while Bowie and her big boss would have me shut up, drop out of college, and “have a nice day” in the face of an unjust system, I refuse to be complacent. Can you?