Recently a group of 61 students were forced to pay a fee of $3000 each for the felonious act of downloading music files. Guess where the money went. It was not a state-levied fine for breaking the law. The money (totaling $183,000) was paid to the Recording Industry Association of America.
The students were notified via a letter which threatened fines of $750 per download and the students mentioned had downloaded hundreds of songs. After the initial scare, the letter also gave the students an out. They had the option to pay a settlement ($3000) and avoid further legal action. Given the risk, it made sense for the students to cough-up the cash. The music companies would likely spend enormous money on lawyers to ensure a victory over any individual that stood up against them. The last thing they could afford would be a precedent for resistance.
What’s next? Last year, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry filed 8,000 cases in 17 countries (not U.S.) against people accused of illegally sharing digital music. As of the article last October, nearly 2,300 people have paid an average of $3,100. That is $7 million in revenue for the industry. Is this really where we want this to go in the U.S.?
I looked up “extortion” in a few dictionaries:
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language says:
1. The act or an instance of extorting.
2. Illegal use of one’s official position or powers to obtain property, funds, or patronage.
3. An excessive or exorbitant charge.
4. Something extorted.
A legal definition of extortion is:
n. obtaining money or property by threat to a victim’s property or loved ones, intimidation, or false claim of a right (such as pretending to be an IRS agent). It is a felony in all states, except that a direct threat to harm the victim is usually treated as the crime of robbery.
While this situation is “legal” under current statutes, it is not the intent of the law. Unfair penalties for minor infractions have led to widespread extortion by the music industry. How long is this going to be allowed to continue?
I will let others argue about the legality of P2P networks and file sharing. That is a topic that will have to addressed on a national level (because of the interstate commerce aspect) as the use of computers continues to change the world we live in. However, the use of extortion to make money is inexcusable. The laws must be changed. Either make digital sharing legal or make settlements not be an option for the music industry.