from The Daily Free Press - The Independent Student Newspaper at Boston University

RIAA suits unnecessary, local musicians say
by Alexis Steinberg
October 15, 2007

The Recording Industry Association of America's decision to target students who have illegally downloaded music over the past few years may drain the pockets of artists who release the songs, a panel of student musicians and local lawmakers said Friday at the Digital Freedom Campaign Forum at Northeastern University.

Jennifer Vardi, director of Music Law Group and a Berklee College of Music senior who works with the campaign to establish groups at colleges, said record labels actually lose money when they sue people for illegally downloading because of the steep price of legal fees.

Seth Kroll, manager and lyricist for the independent band Family Junction and program associate at Boston University's Florence & Chafetz Hillel House, said the RIAA has made a big stink out of an issue that most musicians are not too concerned about.

"The people that make the music aren't business people," Kroll said. "Artists are now able to promote themselves . . . . A lot of the reactions by the RIAA are business fears."

Kroll said his band is more interested in developing a fan base than cutting a profit, and he encourages listeners who purchase the band's music to share it with others.

"If 20 years down the road we find ourselves broke and poor but 20 million people have our album, I think we'd be OK with that," Kroll said.

Though illegal downloading may seem rampant, accurate statistics are impossible to obtain, said Berkman Center for Internet and Society Fellow and Northeastern School of Law professor Wendy Seltzer. The rate of illegal downloads could be slowed if universities were allowed to institute a "voluntary collective license," a system that allows radio stations to purchase music at one initial cost so they do not have to pay for each time the song is played. Seltzer said universities and individuals should be able to have access to all files after paying a similar "blanket" charge each month.

"The use of filesharing has increased the sale of music," Seltzer said. "We know the music wouldn't be there if people didn't pay for it."

Because file-sharing technology is still relatively new, online copyright laws are "fuzzy," she said.

Legal problems could be avoided if the first-sale doctrine -- which states that once someone purchases an item, such as a book, the owner can share it with others -- applied to online downloads.

"We should embrace a digital first-sale doctrine," she said. "Copyright in the past has never been a pay-per-use system."

BU has been one of the schools most frequently cited for illegal downloading. The RIAA issued pre-litigation settlement offers of around $3,000 each to almost 50 students in March and has sued more than 30 students since fall 2005.

College of Communication Sophomore Danielle Stowe said one of her friends is being sued for $30,000 after unknowingly sharing files and refusing the pre-litigation settlement.

"A lot of the songs were released as singles," Stowe said. "He didn't realize he was taking so much."

Representatives from the RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America were not present for the forum. Director of Digital Freedom University Vijay Ragheurer explained why record labels frequently sue illegal downloaders.

"To make sure people understand the consequences, [labels] need to sue for so much money," Ragheurer said.

© Copyright 2007 The Daily Free Press