February 13, 2007 | By Cindy Cohn

RIAA to ISPs: Help Us Sue Your Customers Better

As if suing thousands of music fans isn't bad enough, now the RIAA wants to conscript ISPs into helping them streamline the shakedowns. The major record labels sent a letter to ISPs across the country asking them to trade away customers' rights and make the overzealous file sharing lawsuits more profitable -- and the RIAA even has the audacity to suggest that this is all for your own good.

ISPs currently have no obligation to maintain IP log files, and that's a good thing when it comes to protecting your privacy. Those log files can serve as Internet breadcrumbs -- your ISP and any third party that has access to them can retrace your online activities.

But the RIAA wants ISPs to maintain (and disclose) a customer's IP logs for six months whenever the RIAA says the user may have infringed copyright. In exchange, the record companies will reduce its initial lawsuit settlement demands. Of course, the actual customer would have no say in the matter. The RIAA letter says it wants the information kept because it could "exculpate" the customer, but of course those same records can also implicate the user. Funny, the labels don't mention that.

EFF and others have long warned that copyright claims could become an altar on which personal privacy is sacrificed. Now the RIAA wants your ISP to voluntarily wield the knife, and there's no telling what else the RIAA might ask for once this cut has been made.

The RIAA also wants ISPs to keep customers in the dark about their legal options. Before the RIAA has even verified that the user is correctly identified, it wants ISPs to send along a note saying the user might be sued and can already settle potential claims. At the same time, the RIAA scolds ISPs for giving information to their customers that could help provide sound legal counsel. Instead, the RIAA wants ISPs to direct subscribers solely to the RIAA.

In other words, the RIAA wants it to be harder for customers to find out that settling early might be a bad idea. Does the RIAA readily tell customers that parents are generally not liable for infringements committed by their kids, or that bankruptcy might be a last-ditch option for some, or that the record labels have occasionally sued the wrong people? Doubtful. The RIAA's letter notes that some people have been told that "the RIAA could have been incorrect in identifying your IP address" -- which of course is true -- and "directed the subscriber to certain websites, instead of having him contact the RIAA." We suspect those websites include EFF's resources as well as the Subpoena Defense website.

It's possible that, after the fact, a given user might have preferred a cheaper, earlier settlement, but neither ISPs nor fans should have to make the remarkably perverse choice laid out in the RIAA's "offer." As we've pointed out repeatedly, the record labels could help forge a better way forward to get artists paid without suing fans or further endangering their privacy.

The last time we checked, ISPs don't work for the RIAA, so until the major record labels come to their collective senses, ISPs shouldn't be handmaidens in their misguided lawsuit campaign.

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