First, let me confess that (at least in the view of the music industry trade assocation, RIAA) I break the law. I’ve participated in music file sharing. I’ve downloaded and uploaded music files. I haven’t done this in some months and I don’t do it on a large scale. But I am a scofflaw. So come get me, RIAA. I feel like that character in Guys and Dolls who sings: “Sue me, sue me what can you do me?” If they do, I’m going to need the ACLU to defend me because a lawsuit would break me and my family financially. But I think standing up to the RIAA’s stupid, bullying tactics is very important.
So who are the good guys in this fight? Well, SBC and Verizon are fighting the good fight to protect their customers’ privacy. Yesterday’s New York Times contains an aptly named article about ISP resistance and cave-in to RIAA pressure: SBC Won’t Name Names in File-Sharing Cases. SBC and Verizon dererve their customers’ and our undying gratitude for upholding privacy rights of their customers. Sure, they’re not doing it merely to be good guys. They have corporate and financial intersts in this (see the article’s reference to SBC advertising encouraging customers to file swap). But who cares, they’re doing the right thing and that’s what’s important.
My own ISP, Comast has caved to industry pressure. They’re naming names (as the Times headlines points out so deftly puts it). I spent 30 minutes on the corporate site looking for a company response to the RIAA supoenas. You won’t find it. Then I called Comcast customer service to find out what the company’s policy is and to ask how a customer can weigh in with their response. Well, I’m still on hold as I write this. We’ll see what they say if anything.
Isn’t corporate customer service grand? The represenative just came on after leaving me on hold for four minutes, saying: “We really don’t have any other information to give out.” What a helpful response! I finally reached the corporate legal office and spoke to a representative there who wondered why I needed a corporate response on this issue since the Comcast spokesperson in the New York Times article presented the company’s position. How’s that for being helpful? The conversation was generally adversarial when it didn’t need to be. Finally, when I told her I would be writing about Comcast’s response to the RIAA on my weblog, she took notice. She didn’t understand at all what a weblog is and thought I meant I was a journalist! Then when I mentioned that I’d like to present the company’s position in its own words in my post, she replied: “You do not have permission to quote me on any of this.” Hey, I understand that she works in the legal department and they can be quite guarded and testy about such issues. But why treat me like I’m the enemy? If her response is any indication, I’d say that Comcast just doesn’t get it on this issue. They’re hunkering down and treating us like we’re the enemy when we’re not–we’re the CUSTOMER!! By the way, though the representative accepted my e mail and phone number, she never promised that she or any other corporate rep would get me the information I requested or respond to my opposition to corporate policy. Way to go, Comcast!
In my opinion, if your ISP gives away your private information without a fight, then they’re not worthy of being your ISP. Also, if they violate your privacy rights in this instance, how highly do they value your privacy in general? In what other ways in the future will they give your information away to interested parties? If you feel the same way, let your ISP know that. If you’re an SBC/Verizon customer, let them know you appreciate their support. If you’re looking for an ISP and this issue is important to you, consider SBC or Verizon if they’re available to you.
Now, let’s talk about music file sharing in general. I think that RIAA’s position is hopelessly anachronistic. It’s like trying to get the genie back in the bottle. File sharing is too prevalent in world society to be stopped. Too many people use the service, too many value it. They’re not just going to roll over and play dead when the RIAA says: “Stop, you’re being naughty.” I understand that file sharing may (notice I said “may” and even this is a dubious contention) hurt the music industry in its current mode of content delivery to customers (CDs, etc.). But instead of trying to do the impossible, why doesn’t the industry embrace change and accept the inevitable? Why don’t they buy the Napsters, KaZaas and Morpheuses of the world and turn them into money makers? Probably, because they’ve tested out this possibility and find that they can’t make as much as they can by charging $20 or more for CDs. Well, too bad. Industries before this have faced revolutionary change in business climate and they’ve adapted quite well. I’m certain that the spirit of American entrepreneurial vision will provide the industry with a way to make the new world of music content delivery work for them. If they can’t do this, then they don’t deserve to survive. I’m not a capitalist by nature, but in this case I’d say capitalism has something to say for itself.