RIAA music lawsuits seem to be a sharp idea

The Internet’s wild-west days are ending, and we all should be cheering. Proper regulation is leading to the end of an illegal activity. But not many people are happy.

To those who deplore the response of the Recording Industry Association of America to the illegal downloading and distribution of copyrighted material, shame on you.

They are serious this time – and so am I. You are a criminal, and laziness is no justification for your activity.

I am sick and tired of Internet users lamenting how their criminal behavior is OK because this is the Internet.

Sorry, the Internet is not beyond the reach of our established laws and regulations. There’s a legal way to get digital forms of your favorite song. It’s called iTunes.

Launched in 2001, iTunes is Apple Computers’ digital media player application. But don’t let the name fool you, it does so much more than Windows Media Player.

iTunes allows users to manage their iPods’ content by downloading purchased songs, albums, movie trailers, television shows, radio programs and more. This one-stop shop is not only convenient; it’s legal.

The method of preventing further illegal file-sharing through iTunes is by using Digital Rights Management technology.

According to the Web site www.allexperts.com, DRM is “any of several technologies used by publishers to control access to and usage of digital data and hardware, handling usage restrictions associated with a specific instance of a digital work.”

This technology stops the problem at its root. “Johnny” or “Suzie” can no longer rip off digital content from iTunes.

According to lq1media.com, proponents argue “creators of digital works should have the power to control the distribution or replication of copies of their works and to assign limited control over such copies.” And they absolutely are correct.

Such restrictions on content distribution and duplication exist for all other copyrighted material. Just because it’s on the Internet does not mean copyright laws do not apply. DRM is this protector of intellectual properties. But, some say it goes too far.

DRM opponents argue its presence infringes on private-property rights and restricts normal user activities.

DRM technology relies on placing restrictions users cannot modify or disable. They have no choice, and according to the Web site eff.org, DRM opponents said, it’s “useless to copyright owners and irritating to legit customers.”

But DRM opponents are wrong. It is a savior to copyright owners and irritating to unlawful customers. Most importantly, it clears the “fair use” legal hurdle.

Fair use is a principle in U.S. copyright law, which allows partial use of copyrighted material without needing permission from the rights holders.

Based on First Amendment rights, fair use “provides for the legal, non-licensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author’s work under a four-factor balancing test.”

The four-pronged test consists of purpose and character, nature of the copied work, amount and substantiality and effect on the work’s value. Criticism, teaching, research and news reporting meet this standard for fair use of copyrighted material.

Unfortunately for music pirates, DRM is an effective tool for fighting against illegal fair usage of copyrighted digital property. The RIAA does not stop here.

Since September 2003, the RIAA has filed lawsuits against 13,000 Internet users, with 3,000 of those charged settling for $4,000 to $5,000 on average.

Lawsuits also have been filed against Napster.com, Verizon and a host of other file-trading networks. According to the RIAA, the group states, “We will continue to hold accountable businesses that engage in theft, it will pursue individuals who engage in the uploading of copyrighted works.”

What the RIAA has done is not unfair – it’s a counteraction against a criminal problem that, if not remedied, would put the music business out of business.

Proper and sensible measures have been taken by the RIAA. As the Internet innovates, so has the RIAA by offering discounted prices for copyrighted content on iTunes. Yet, some criminals persist, claiming the RIAA’s actions have held back innovation and halted fair usage of copyrighted content. Don’t be fooled.

What’s happening is illegal, and I’m proud of the RIAA for taking a stance for what is lawful. The Internet’s tradition is not of lawlessness, but of legal modernization.

Matt Wisnewski Daily Toreador Texas Tech U-Wire