January 15, 2004
Do You Wonder Whether Someday, When They Find Our Relics of Information, They Will Scratch Their Heads In Amazement Over Our Policies and Tactics?


Yesterday, Frank Field pointed to this:

Music Industry Puts Troops in the Streets: Quasi-legal squads raid street vendors

    Though no guns were brandished, the bust from a distance looked like classic LAPD, DEA or FBI work, right down to the black "raid" vests the unit members wore. The fact that their yellow stenciled lettering read "RIAA" instead of something from an official law-enforcement agency was lost on 55-year-old parking-lot attendant Ceasar Borrayo.
    The Recording Industry Association of America is taking it to the streets.
    Even as it suffers setbacks in the courtroom, the RIAA has over the last 18 months built up a national staff of ex-cops to crack down on people making and selling illegal CDs in the hood.

This is the RIAA, going after intellectual property. Like a drug raid. And we know how well the drug policy has been working the past 50 years. Success all over the place. It's not the drugs or IP that this is about, it's about policy and tactics, those people in the underground economy, and all the societal problems that come with it. Do we really want to go down this path with IP, or figure out a business model that works with digital distribution, not against it?

Update: Jason Schultz in the comments corrects his misquote in the LA Weekly article. On his blog, he says what he meant was,

    ...that sending out squads of investigators to collect evidence against counterfeiters is traditionally what trade enforcement organizations like the RIAA are good at. They find the pirates, collect the evidence, and then turn it over to real cops for enforcement.

...and that he had no idea the reporter was calling about the RIAA doing literal raids. Abe Burmeister responds to the distinction between file sharing and CD trading:

    But really what is the difference between the two? One is structural, P2P file sharing involves a computer and broadband connection while alternative CD networks involve physical goods, that are copied not stolen. The other difference between the two is socioeconomic. P2P is a middle class act, requiring expensive equipment and connections. The extralegal CD distribution networks operate in far less privileged spaces. And they represent a valid attempt by these communities to route around the restrictions the RIAA is attempting to impose. But since it doesn't involve extensive computer use the EFF can't be bothered to defend.

He makes a very good point, and one that parallels what happens with drug prosecution and enforcement, when drugs like crack are punishable with far more restrictive sentences than cocaine, essentially reflecting who uses them and their socio-economic status. Course, the poor-folk get the short end of the stick. Though I would argue that there are also major organizations devoted to piracy, not just the small time folks noted in the article. I would disagree that EFF can't be bothered to defend CD distribution of copied music. I think instead EFF has drawn a legal line between these two types of music sharing, and in fact, before the first lawsuits against file sharers, they suggested that the RIAA should sue them. But I think a position they would have the most integrity with is that suing or raiding is untenable, that society would benefit overall from decriminalizing this behavior in favor of a business model that supports file sharing, makes artists money, no matter who does the distribution and by what method. Pushing more people, especially poor people with little resources, further into the criminal justice system, further into the underground economy, is a mistake those people can never recover from. There is no growth or advancement for a person in the underground economy, there is almost no chance to educate or buy a house or make a stake in society for themselves, their children or improve their neighborhoods. It's bad public policy and should not be supported at all.

Posted by Mary Hodder at January 15, 2004 06:39 PM

Hey Mary,

Just in case any of your readers are wondering, there's a quote in this story from me appearing to endorse the raids that's actually a MISQUOTE. I've posted a full response to the story and the quote here. But suffice it to say that I had no idea the RIAA was conducting these raids with their own rent-a-cops, vigilante-style, instead of the typical trade investigations that then go to the police for warrant-based arrests.

Posted by: Jason Schultz on January 16, 2004 01:59 AM

I was going to write something serious about the risks involved with private police...but do you remember back in the Clinton years when the NRA painted the federal government (BATF) as "jack-booted thugs." That seemed to work for the guys trying to take away guns...maybe it will work against these guys.

Posted by: Chris on January 18, 2004 05:05 PM
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