Legal Tentacles

The Recording Industry of America Association has Extended its Grip Across Europe into the Sprawling Russian Market

A poster for a citizen protest against the overwhelming dominance of RIAA | Photo: Adam Frucci

Chances are, unless you have been living in North America, the Recording Industry of America Association (RIAA) is unknown to you. However, what was once a small organization, created to implement and maintain recording standards, has now become a one of the most influential government lobbying organizations, with the power to influence world diplomacy and affect the lives of people around the world.

The RIAA nowadays spends much of its time chasing those accused of online music piracy, and in many ways has adopted a strategy of intimidation in an attempt to bring this to a halt.  According to Eric Bangeman at ARS Technica, suspected offenders receive a letter from the RIAA stating that they will be sued for damages.

According to John Borland of, under US copyright law, the RIAA has the right sue for as much as $150,000 for each offence. Based on this, if the defendant was successfully prosecuted for downloading a 12-song album, the RIAA could demand as much as $1.8 million in damages. For an Album that costs 20 dollars at any music store, that is one heck of a mark-up!

The latter goes on to offer the suspected “Pirate” a way out of litigation. The individual is offered an option to pay the RIAA directly online through an Automated Settlement System (, and therefore never see the inside of a courtroom. It even accepts Visa as payment.

And those that are brought face to face with the RIAA aren’t always the type you would expect. John Borland of reports several key cases where the accused were senior citizens. One man from Texas was 71 years old, and another was a grandmother from Boston. In one high profile case the defendant was only 12 years old, well under the age of a legally responsible adult. It seems RIAA has no scruples; they even chase after pensioners and kids! However, especially in the case of pensioners, does age equal impunity?

Sometimes people who have officially committed no crime are manipulated into paying the RIAA thousands in order to avoid an expensive and time-consuming court case. As can happen in court settlements between unequal litigants, some of these practices have the feeling of extortion-pay us a smaller amount of money now to avoid us ruining you later.

However, RIAA’s most impressive tour-de-force was its showdown with Russian company AllofMP3. AllofMp3 is a music downloading service much like Apples’ iTunes – except that it charges only $0.12 a song, compared to $0.99 on iTunes.

According to Cassimir Medford of Red, the RIAA has labeled AllofMp3 an illegal operation that should be shut down. AllofMp3 has consistently proclaimed their innocence, stating that the RIAA has no jurisdiction in Russia; they already pay all licensing fees required from the Russian Organization for Multimedia and Digital Systems, a government agency, and are not responsible for users outside of Russia.

The RIAA was not content to leave the issue at that. Auspiciously, Russia’s recent moves to enter the World Trade Organization put the RIAA in a position to stipulate certain measures from the Russian government: included on the list of required economic and social reforms was a clause compelling the Russian government to shut AllofMp3 down.

A small website making up an essentially non-existent percentage of the worldwide music download market has therefore become center of a diplomatic tussle with worldwide implications.

According to the IDG News Service, the Russian government has pledged to shut down AllofMp3 immediately. Irrespective of this pledge, AllofMp3 is still in operation at the time of print.

All of this seems to stem from the blatantly obvious reality of the situation. The business model relied upon by the industry since the Beatles and before, simply does not work any longer. Instead of spending tens of millions on litigation, government lobbying, and treating customers as potential “pirates” maybe the music industry should actually offer a service people could use, and afford.

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