The NPD Group's latest music stats provide yet another reason that the RIAA's war on college students is misguided:

"The 'social' ripping and burning of CDs among friends ? which takes place offline and almost entirely out of reach of industry policing efforts ? accounted for 37 percent of all music consumption, more than file-sharing, NPD said."

This data suggests offline sharing is growing, and that's to be expected. Along with burning CDs and DVDs for each other, fans can swap hard drives, share USB drives, and use many other technologies to share music without hopping online or installing P2P software. It's only going to get easier to share mass volumes of music in this way -- these tools are increasingly ubiquitous, with ever growing capacity and ever diminishing price.

Sure does make the RIAA's recent litigation rampage against college students seem silly, doesn't it? The kinds of university network surveillance being pushed by the RIAA won't make any difference, either. After all, even if university administrators unplugged the student body from the Internet altogether, that still wouldn't stop students from walking out of their dorm rooms with a stack of burned DVDs filled with music. In fact, the more the RIAA attacks P2P, the more likely fans will simply migrate to these alternative channels.

So, short of ubiquitous surveillance (including hand-to-hand swapping), stopping fans from sharing music is doomed to failure.

Isn't it about time we start focusing on the real question: how do we ensure that artists and rights holders get adequately compensated for the unrestrained copying that is an inevitable fact of digital life?

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